Saturday, December 26, 2009

Franklin’s Brewery - Hyattsville, Maryland

For some reason the day after Christmas I was craving beer so I headed to a local microbrew on the other side of the beltway: Franklin’s Brewery in Hyattsville, Maryland. The venue is located in a historic area that is somewhat on the decline, but from what I discovered, customer travel frequently from Washington D.C., nearby College Park, as well as local neighborhoods. The building was constructed over 130 years before as a blacksmith and carriage shop. And since 1910 it has served the community as a hardware store - turning into Franklins in 1992 with the brewpub added ten years later.

Today the brewpub was serving nine beers and I sampled each. For those hop heads, this is your place. A majority were hop infusions: the Sierra Madre Pale Ale, Private I.P.A, Anarchy Ale, and the Mission Accomplished. These beers are definitely more suitable for pairing with a meal - which the hops a great palate cleanser. My favorites were the Imperial Stout and the Twisted Turtle Pale Ale - the later an English-style pale ale made correctly in that style using Crystal and Pale Ale malts and Magnum and East Kent Goldings Hops. The finish was mildly hoppy - but lingered - a true English ale. This beer was also served using their nitro system - creating an even more English feel - soft and creamy. The Imperial Stout tasted as expected as well - a little high in alcohol but balanced by the dark flavors. In fact, most of these beers fit their billing, the Sierra Madre Pale Ale was a west-styled pale ale and the I.P.A. extremely hoppy; except for the Bombshell Blonde - billed as a Kolsch - wasn't as hoppy as expected and seemed to be more of a lager than ale. But in sum, these are good beers - and its nice to find a non-chain microbrew in the area. We will be back - particularly before or after trips to the University of Maryland basketball games.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Kim Crawford The Artists' Lounge

One of New Zealand's best known wineries if Kim Crawford, makers of excellent Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay - among many others. The winery is pushing the social networking principle further than the usual suspects by creating their own "The Artists' Lounge" - an "online community as a place for emerging artists and those who appreciate the arts to share inspirations and artwork with each other for the chance to inspire." The site consists of two lounges, The Artists' Lounge and a Music Lounge. The first contains an "Artists in Residence", a community of emerging artists representing various artistic categories: fashion, music, photography, print making and poetry. There is also a forum which allows members - anyone who registers - the ability to post ideas, "a work of art, or anything to ignite and inspire The Artists' Lounge community". Finally the The Artists' Lounge contains a Member Gallery where both members and resident artists can share their artwork.

Whereas this lounge will undoubtedly interest many readers, our focus and interest are in the Music Lounge. Every few months the lounge selects a handful of artists to showcase - some from Oceania, some from North America. We felt the site legitimize themselves immediately by selected The Greencards and Sarah Bettens as one of the initial artists. The remaining artists were unknown to us - one important rational for visiting the site - to find new artists. I really liked the soulful vocals of Daphne Willis, Nathan Gaunt, and the jazz sound of Weather Pending and Sutro. The others were also good: Boh Runga, John Zambricki, Leftover Cuties, and Van Risseghem. Now, the goal of any good social networking site is to draw traffic and promote their brand. Kim Crawford's "The Artists' Lounge" has perked our interest. Not only will we be regular visitors to this site - we plan to look for Crawford's wines during our next trip to Norm's Beer & Wine.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Kugler's Vineyard 2004 Cynthiana

This week we opened a real surprise in our Norton series, the 2004 Dry Cynthiana from Kugler's Vineyard. Tony and Kay Kugler own and operate this small family enterprise located just south of Lawrence Kansas. The winery makes wines from a couple traditional labrusca grapes (Concord and Niagara), hybrids (Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc), and its flagship wine: Cynthiana. This is a big wine, and the Kugler's have managed to remove all traces of grapeyness and acidity from the wine. It is full bodied with cherry flavors, yet smooth - with little traces of tannins. A very nice wine. So, next time you find yourself traveling to Lawrence to see the University of Kansas, or a show at the Bottleneck or The Granada, or even just visiting Kansas City, take a little detour.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

2001 Little Mountain Vineyard Norton Hermannhof Winery

Lately we've been eliminating our abundant inventory of Norton wines - accumulated several years ago while traveling weekly to the Midwest. This week we opened an ancient bottle - the 2001 Little Mountain Vineyard Norton from Hermannhof Winery. You know they are serious about this variety when they bottle wine from only vineyard designate grapes. Hermannhof is located in German settlement of Hermann the and its stone cellars are "among the 100 early Hermann buildings placed on the National Register of Historic places by the Federal government". After opening, we decanted the wine for about an hour to let the rust and wine aerate. And it had aged nicely. In fact the usual grapey Norton flavor had been replaced by cherry flavors more reminiscent of a Cabernet Franc. The finish is very smooth - not a bad wine at all.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

St. Augustine Wineries

On our frequent trips along Route 95 in Florida, we most likely take a detour into historic St. Augustine to either see the sites or stop in at San Sebastian Winery. This winery has a great roof top terrace where we have enjoyed their wines made from unique grapes grown from their Clermont, Florida Vineyard. We are talking about Florida Muscadine, Blanc Du Bois, and Stover grapes. Many times we have had to fight through visitors shuttled to the winery via tour buses as tourists looked for souvenirs. San Sebastian used to be the only game in town, but on our most recent stop in St. Augustine we found that Florida Orange Groves and Winery has incorporated another franchise along St. George Street: Vino del Grotto Winery. Florida Orange Groves makes fruit wines and sells them through several channels - including wine stores at major Florida tourist enclaves: Key West, Miami, Panama City Beach, and now St. Augustine. The use all types of fruit in these concoctions starting with Florida oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, pineapples, mangoes, and even key limes, bananas and coconuts. Yes, many of these are gimmicky - but marketed to tourists; they sell. The winery also produces traditional fruit wines in blueberry, cherry, red raspberry, and blackberry flavors - with the dry versions of the cherry and blackberry not too bad. Many of the other versions where just too sweet for our blood. Vegetables are not forgotten either. Their 40 Karat Semi-Dry White Wine made entirely from carrot juice and then there is the Hot Sun Spicy Tomato Wine. The later is actually a medal winner - as are many of their wines. However, despite these intriguing offerings are favorite was their traditional honey wine made from - you guest it - orange blossom honey. Its sweet - but not gritty - typical of a sweet mead. So the next time you find yourself near this historic city - make sure you stop into San Sebastian Winery on your drive in or out; and while walking along the pedestrian street of St. George - take a look at Vino del Grotto Winery.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

20 Days in November

We've been relatively silent this month, because we've been running a special feature on our companion site, For this feature, we are adventuring out to see 20 consecutive days of live music in the Washington D.C. area - predominately in Northern Virginia. As a result we've gained a general knowledge of the types of alcohol served at these music venues. And for whatever reason, beer has been the libation of choice. We attended events at all styles of venues - concert halls, restaurants, coffee houses, Irish pubs, and brewpubs - and not surprisingly Dogfish Head Alehouse had our favorite overall beer list. Dogfish is famous for crafting unique and historic beer styles that we have written about previously. And paired with live music - what more do you need?

The best beer list of the remaining venues was clearly Evening Star Cafe, located in Alexandria Virginia. In addition to the traditional mass produced brews, they offer PBR, and a nice assortment of craft brews: Founders Brewing Company - Red Rye P.A; Stone Brewing - Arrogant Bastard; Dogfish Head Craft Brewery - 60 Minute IPA; Kona Brewing Company - Kona Long Board Lager; Brooklyn Brewery - Brooklyn Brown; Magic Hat Brewing Company - #9; and Bear Republic Brewery - Racer 5 IPA - among others. Plus with its friendly environment - this is a nice neighborhood spot. The Dogfish Head Craft Brewery 60 Minute IPA was also my beer of choice at Vienna's Jammin' Java and was also available at The Old Brogue. However, at this Great Falls Irish pub, I couldn't pass up the Old Speckled Hen; although a group surrounding me tore through a bottle of Sokol Blosser Vineyards Evolution. That was tempting. The The State Theatre and IOTA Club had similar beer offerings where I usually stuck to a pale ale - either the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Pale Ale or The Harpoon Brewery Harpoon IPA. And at The Birchmere, the Starr Hill Brewing Amber Ale was my choice. Finally, I spent a few nights absorbing local music at historic JV's Restaurant - and to fit into the bluegrass\rockabilly environment nothing worked better than Pabst Blue Ribbon - served in both bottles and on draft. So, next time you find a nice show through, you are more than likely going to find a nice craft brew as well.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Black Box Wines: Sauvignon Blanc

As a member of Foodbuzz, we received an offer to review a wine from Black Box Wines, a brand that offers "a full range of high end box wines crafted from grapes grown in the world’s best winegrowing regions". Now, our regular readers know that we are fans of some box wines and laud the virtues of this serving vessel. To summarize, box wines oxidize quite slowly after opening (Black Box states that their wines remain fresh for at least four weeks after opening) and they offer convenient usage (portable to the beach, boats, picnics, etc). They are also cheaper to produce and to transport - equating to lower prices coming form the wallet. And in many cases, you can find quality wine coming out of a box.

Black Box Wines offers several brands - Cabernet Sauvignon * Merlot * Shiraz * Chardonnay * Pinot Grigio * Sauvignon Blanc * Riesling * Reserve Merlot * Reserve Chardonnay - and we received a New Zealand made Sauvignon Blanc. In general we prefer other varietals to Sauvignon Blanc, but New Zealand provides some of the best SB growing regions - particularly the Hawkes Bay, Marlborough and Gisborne - where grapes for this wine were grown. The box retails for $25, which translates to a little over $6 for a 750ml bottle equivalent. We punctured the box, removed the seal and poured a couple glasses and allowed the wine's temperature to raise a little. A nice floral aroma slowly developed as the wine warmed - however when tasted - the wine had no real acidity. That's odd, because New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is known for providing a refreshing acidic feel. Even worse, the wine had no real flavor and was hindered by a dull metallic finish. Basically I can't tell if this particular box was just a dud, or if this brand is just not good. basically we now have 4 weeks to save as cooking wine. We will check back with one of the their other varietals - maybe a red - to determine if this was an isolated incident or a painful trend.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Loire Valley Wines

Last month we attended a trade tasting for wines from the Loire Valley sponsored by the Loire Valley Wine Bureau. Loire Valley produce the most popular wines drunk by the French populace and is "France's longest and most diverse wine region". In fact, the region is divided into 5 primary regions, which include 65 appellations. Because of its large size, the Loire Valley is home to wide diversity of grapes. Sauvignon Blanc is probably the most widely planted variety, but there is also Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Melon de Bourgogne (Muscadet), Chardonnay, and Romorantin. And these are only the white grapes. For reds, there's Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Gamay, Grolleau, Côt (Malbec), and Pineau d’Aunis. These varieties are used to produce either red, rosé, or sparkling wine.

We learned quickly however, that one doesn't request a wine by the varietal, instead you request a wine by appellation. For instance, you could request either a white Chinon or a red Chinon and receive a Chenin Blanc based wine or a Cabernet Franc - depending on the request. A request for Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire would get you a Melon de Bourgogne. The most popular request during the tasting was for a Sancerre - which would deliver a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir. This region is perhaps the most famous appellation in the Loire Valley and its grapes produce phenomenal Sauvignon Blanc wines. We've never been serious drinkers of this varietal, thinking most we've tried were rather bland. But these are in their own class; fruity but balanced. Easy to drink - but with texture. Some we noted were Jean Reverdy et Fils, Domaine Rolland Tissier & Fils Sancere Blanc, the Alphonse Mellot Les Romains, and a Sancerre from the Alliance Loire - "a group of winegrowers who decided in 2002 to pool their resources in order to offer a complete range of authentic, well-balanced wines".

The Alliance Loire also was pouring a nice Vouvray and Saumur - both Chenin Blanc wines. And this is one grape that probably doesn't get the attention it deserves. It's versatility allows it to be vinified into excellent still wine, dessert wine as well as the sparkling version. And since blending is a French tradition, some of the best wines we tasted were Chenin Blanc\Chardonnay blends. There was the Domaine des Varinelles N.V. Cremant de Loire Brut (plus some Cabernet Franc) and the Collection de J.Mourat - Blanc (50/50 blend).

As for the reds, Cabernet Franc was the prime choice. These were full bodied wines, but silky - melting in the mouth. Our favorites were the collection from Domaine de Belair: the La cuvée Gabriel, La Fosse aux Loups, and the La Croix Boissée. Other's were the Chinon Le Clos de l'Echo from Couly-Dutheil and the Chateau de la Genaiserie Anjou-Villages Cabernet Franc. This winery was also pouring a nice medium bodied Gamay - the Anjou Gamay. Gamay was also a fixture in the Clos du Tue Boeuf 2008 Cheverny Rouge Rouillon (Gamay and Pinot Noir) and the Theirry Puzelat Telquel that were being poured by Williams Corner. However, our favorite among these was the Theirry Puzelat In Côt We Trust - 100% Malbec. Its lighter than most wines made from this varietal, but has a nice rustic quality to it - easy to drink with a slight spiciness. Plus the grapes are sourced from "vine growers who farm their plots organically, and in some instances Bio-dynamically".

This tasting opened our eyes to the abundant wines available from the Loire Valley. Next we look forward to exploring some of the more eccentric varietals from this region such as Pineau d’Aunis and Menu Pineau. We hear Thierry Puzelat may be another good source.

Monday, October 26, 2009

American Moonshine

On another raining weekend we decided to explore the bar and see what interesting items we hadn't opened. Viola, instantly several different bottles of whiskey appeared - either straight corn whiskey or labeled "moonshine". Why not a comparative tasting. Within our collection were:
  1. Virginia Lightening distilled by Belmont Farm Distillery in Culpeper Virginia. This 100% corn whiskey is double distilled in a copper pot still and diluted to 100 proof.
  2. Mountain Moonshine distilled by West Virginia Distilling Company from Morgantown, West Virginia. Although labeled as moonshine, this is a 80-20 blend of grain neutral spirits and corn. After careful blending, we add oak chips that have been roasted to just the right color. The whiskey is also aged slightly in oak chips.
  3. Catdaddy distilled by Piedmont Distillers, Inc. in Madison, North Carolina. This whiskey is made from 100% corn and is triple distilled in copper pot stills with a few secret ingredients added.
  4. Junior Johnson's Midnight Moon, also from Piedmont Distillers, Inc. is again triple distilled in copper pot stills, but containing neutral grain spirits.
  5. Platte Valley Corn Whiskey distilled by McCormick Distilling and is 100% straight corn whiskey distilled in Illinois and aged for three years.
We tasted each whiskey neat, then added a little water to dampen the alcohol. Overall, there were some interesting products - but the overall favorite was clearly the Platte Valley Corn Whiskey. Maybe it was the aging three years - but this corn whiskey is extremely smooth with little burn even before adding water. It has the sweet corn aroma and flavor expected from corn whiskey and a smooth - smooth finish. The Junior Johnson's Midnight Moon was close, but this moonshine is more characteristic of a vodka. It was also extremely smooth - but didn't possess much aroma or flavor - probably a good candidate for a mixing. It's sibling, Catdaddy, was very interesting. Its spicy character resembled the botanicals in gin; it also reminded us a little of something more suited to Christmas time. Interesting - but not a corn whiskey we'd want to sip after a hard day at work. The Virginia Lightening took a little work to bring forth its true flavors. While drinking neat, the whiskey produces a major burn, which camouflages all sensations. However, by dousing with a few drops of water, the sweet corn aromas and flavor appear and it turns into a nice, drinkable whiskey. Knowing his secret makes it worth supporting a local producer. Finally, the Mountain Moonshine just wasn't so good. Even after adding water, the whiskey produced a healthy burn - surprising considering the oak chips and grain composition. We will be using this one in Bloody Marys.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Marterella Winery

We wanted to inform our readers of the continue saga affecting Katherine Marterella and her Marterella Winery. The Marterellas have been locked into a bitter 5 year litigation feud with the The Bellevue Landowner's Council Inc., the managing property owner's association where the winery is located. Apparently the property owner's association does not like a farm winery in their backyard even though they have not challenged another winery, Mediterranean Cellars, that is located directly across the street from Marterella. Well, on July 1st, a jury ruled in favor of Marterella Winery after deliberating for less than two hours. The ruling declared that Marterella could sell wine at their tasting room without interference from the homeowners' association.

However, in a case of judicial activism, a judge in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit issued an order overturning the verdict claiming that "the on-site retail sale of wine is not an agricultural activity". According to Anything Wine, the court used Webster’s New World Dictionary, 3rd Ed. in order to define "agriculture" and "retail". Oddly, the court did not use the State Legislature's definition of "Farm Winery" codified in Virginia Code Section 15.2-2288.3 that declares "the agricultural nature of … activities and events" relating to the marketing and sale of wine at Virginia farm wineries. We wonder, why not? And where are the Virginia political leaders who boast that they support farm wineries?

The Marterella's have expended close to $300,000 defending their right to operate as a farm winery. We urge readers to visit the winery and support her cause - buy some wine. We just finished a bottle of their Sangiovese - it was excellent.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Old Town Food & Wine Festival

On October 11th we attended The Old Town Food & Wine Festival, held at various locations in historic Alexandria Virginia. For two days visitors were able to attend wine seminars and dinners as well as sample Virginia wine at several stations throughout the city and at two grand tasting locations. This is a great concept, were people can grab a glass of wine and stroll the streets as long as they entered a neighboring establishment. Plus having two tasting rooms spread the tasters - although we heard Saturday was extremely crowded nevertheless. Fortunately for our friend Dezel, from My Virginia Vine Spot, he had allocated two days for the festival.

Our purpose for attending Sunday was to sample wines from two newer wineries and one that doesn't have a tasting room - as of yet. These are Narmada Winery, Democracy Vineyards, and DuCard Vineyards. Narmada is located in Amissville, off 211 West, about 13 west of Warrenton. Sudha and Pandit Patil first planted vines on their property in 2004, increasing the acreage every year. Eventually the developed plans to build a winery and hired Rob Cox, formerly of the Winery at La Grange and Pearmund Cellars as their winemaker. This year saw the first vintage. The wines they produce consist of about 50/50 from grapes grown on the estate and those sourced elsewhere - included Cabernet Franc from Benevino Vineyards. This ratio will change more in favor to their estate as the vineyard matures. They produce traditional Virginian wines - Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, and Chambourcin as well as a Chardonel. What I liked most about these wines is what they were not. Cox doesn't try to mask characteristics by over-oaking or try to make a grape into something it's not suitable for. For instance, their dry Chambourcin is exactly what you would expect from the grape - a medium bodied smooth wine. The Viognier was nice - but a little light - yet Cox throws it out there without playing gimmicks. Narmada is probably the only northern Virginia winery to vinify Chardonel - and is good. They plan to pair this wine as well as an off dry Chambourcin with spicy Indian dished favored by the owners. From our taste, the winery is off to a good start. Like any new establishment, they have room to grow, and it will be interesting to see how the character of their wines change as they start using more estate grown fruit. Narmada is also planning a Grand Opening Celebration sometime in November. Check their website for details.

Down the hall, Scott Elliff was pouring his small batch wines courtesy of his vineyards in Madison County. Virginia. Wines from DuCard Vineyards are not available through normal channels, consumers purchase either by mail, farmers markets, or like we did - directly at DuCards home after ordering via email. Yet, the wines have sold out the past two years. DuCard is best known for his Viognier grapes, in which Rappahannock Cellars have produced many award winning wines. His version is fruity with just a slight hint of oak - leaving texture without being overbearing. The Popham Run Red - a blend of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot is one of my favorite Virginia wines and shows why both these grapes excel in the state. And, DuCard produces one of the best Norton wines in the state. As evident on this day, his Norton is full bodied and a bit jammy - but with little affects of abundant acidity found in this variety. His secret, don't let the juice sit too long with the skins and stems; with Norton you never have to worry about not having enough color concentration. Mr. Ducard also informed us that he plans to benefit from the Virginia agri-tourism boom and is building a tasting room overlooking the vineyards. The tasting room will be ready by Spring 2010 - we will be one of the first to visit.

We had to walk a short distance to the other grand tasting room in order to sample the wines from Democracy Vineyards. This small winery is located in Lovingston - centrally located between Charlottesville and Lynchburg - beautiful country. The proprietors are Jim Turpin and Susan Prokop who both have "long histories in local, state and national political circles: - hence Democracy Vineyards. Their two flagship wines are blends, the white Declaration Reserve and red Velvet Revolution Reserve. The later is named after the Czech revolution in honor of Ms. Prokop's heritage. It consists of Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, Tannat, Petit Verdot, and Merlot; what a combination - almost all our favorite grapes. This is a nice wine - full bodied, smooth, with just a slight tannic finish. This is a wine for drinking now and priced to sell at $15 - a great bargain. The Declaration Reserve contains equal amounts of Chardonnay, Tarminette, and Seyval Blanc and is a nice everyday table wine. Also priced at $15, we couldn't get a feel for this wine, as well as their Cabernet Franc based Rose because it was served too cold. The temperature masked the aroma and flavors and even rubbing the glass for a few seconds failed to warm it. Hopefully these issues will be a distant memory as they become more accustomed to these events; in the meantime we are planning a trip to Nelson county - there are so many excellent wineries and breweries situated in condensed area.

We had to cut short our The Old Town Food & Wine Festival because of family obligations, but this is an event that is sorely needed in this area. We look forward to next year's.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mike Colameco's Food Lover's Guide to New York City

We had hope to use Mike Colameco's Food Lover's Guide to New York City this past weekend in a trip to NYC for the The 2009 Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival. Since our travel plans were interrupted, we decided to proceed with a book review anyhow. For foodies, it is an invaluable resource containing almost 350 pages of restaurant information within the city. In fact, Mr. Colameco has dined at each establishment multiple times, most of the time unannounced. And the restaurants encompass a wide range of styles, from $5 hot dogs to $500 meals. For more decadent types, the book contains another 30 pages of listing for bakeries and chocolate shops.

But for our purpose, the primary value is the directory and description of New York City's Wine Bars and Wine Shops. This is the type of compendium that we have been thinking of developing and Mr. Colameco has beaten us. The book contains information on 17 wine bars - which includes Flute a champagne bar we visited during one of our past trips to the city. For each wine bar, Colameco not only describes the location and wines, but also the types of food served. Readers can determine which establishments utilize an enomatic system; which specialize in French wines or South American wines; and which provide mouthwatering desserts.

The beauty of traveling to NYC, is that you can purchase almost anything in the city, regardless of season. Want tulips in December, no problem. Want a French wine from Languedoc, or a Moldovan wine - no problem. New York wine shops carry the widest selection of wines and Colameco points you to their location - plus a nice description of each. One we frequent, Astor Wine & Spirits was listed first - for alphabetical reasons.

One day soon we will travel back to New York City and this book will most definitely be in our possession at all times. Thanks Mike for a great resource.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

16 Mile Brewing Company

During our visit to the Dewey Beach Music Conference 2009 I allocated time to visit 16 Mile Brewing Company, a new brewery located in nearby Georgetown Delaware. We mean new, as in two months new. The brewery is owned and operated by Chad Campbell and Brett McCrea, who were both present early Saturday morning in the never ending process of cleaning equipment. I interrupted Mr. Campbell's task long enough for him to describe the breweries foundation, philosophy, and a tasting.

Both Campbell and McCrea are native to Georgetown, the county seat of Sussex County. The original seat was held in Lewes, but the state's General Assembly requested that the county move the seat to Georgetown because, it was “16 miles from anywhere” in the county. They both went to Washington College and after careers in government intelligence and business, the two returned home. And after a stint of home brewing, they decided to go commercial. McCrea's chemistry background was a plus, and as an intelligence officer, Campbell has sampled brews made throughout the world. His favorite were English ales - particularly those malty ales with lower carbonation levels. This was the style they chose to emulate.

Currently, the brewery produces two ales: the Old Court Ale and the Amber Sun Ale. When tasting these ales its also imperative that the drinker understand the brewer's philosophy before judging the brews. First, and most evident, the beers are bottled in 22 ounce cans, shaped like a bottle. This delivery vessel provides all the benefits of canned beer that we discussed previously, Craft Brewers Turn to Cans, which are amplified within a beach community. Think drinking at the beach or on a boat; not worrying about the beer being exposed to the hot sun; and easy recycling. For the brewers, they do not need to worry about glass exploding during the bottling process; no need to pay glass deposits; no worries of glass thinning; and finally, plenty of room for description and marketing material. A win wine for the producer and consumer. Second, the beers will be malty - which means the beer will be darker than a comparative version. The Old Court Ale is marketed as a pale ale, but there is nothing pale about this beer. Third, the beers will never be overly "hoppy" - no 60 IBU's here. Instead both beers had just enough hops to balance the flavor - and even with the fewer hops - the hops provided a long finish to the beers.

The final, and most important feature of these beers are that they are designed to be served closer to room temperature than most beers. We don't mean actual room temperature, but just slightly chilled. As with wine, the aromas and malt flavors of beer are enhanced by the warmer the beer is served. Pouring wine or beer too cold depresses the flavors - great for quenching a thirst - but not for savoring a quality beverage. All to often mass produced beers are marketed to be consumed ice cold in order to mask the poor flavor. In order to produce a nice head, these beers are loaded with CO2 gas because the colder a beer gets, the more the malt sugars hold onto the CO2. On the other hand, 16 Mile beers are intended to be consumed warmer, so there are lower carbonation levels than most beers. This doesn't mean the beers will not have an adequate head. In fact, while Campbell was explaining this concept to me, we gradually warmed their beers by cupping the glass and witnessed as the beer warmed the CO2 gas was released from the malt sugars. Served at the appropriate temperature, these beers have the perfect carbonation levels, consumed too cold - the beers may feel flat. A nice chemistry lesson.

Getting back the the beer; their two current offerings are excellent beers. The Old Court Ale is darker than comparative pale ales - but is actually light bodied with a slight citrus flavor. This is a nice afternoon, out in the sun beer. The Amber Sun Ale is stronger - with a more malty sweet flavor - with a perfect long hop finish. Great balance between flavors, hops, and carbonation. This is a the beer for dinner - strong enough for steaks on the frill. 16 Mile beers are available in most retail outlets (remember no sales tax) along the Delaware beaches and are served at many of the neighboring restaurants. But, for a more personal touch, the brewery is just off several routes to the shore. Stop in and say hello.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery - Spirits

Most people are aware of the unique and savory beers produced by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery at their Milton Delaware location, but you may not be aware that they distill a line of spirits at their Rehoboth Beach Dogfish Head Distillery. We first learned of this fact during our research on American Rum Distillers. Currently they produce three styles of rum: Brown Honey Rum, Wit Spiced Rhum, and a Dark Rum. The Brown Honey Rum is double-distilled, and then aged in American oak with Wildflower Honey. The Wit Spiced Rhum is triple-distilled and aged with Curacao orange peel and coriander. The Dark Rum is the same as the Brown Honey rum, just not aged with honey.

But rum isn't the only game in town. they also distill a Gin clone, the Dogfish Jin, distilled with several botanicals including pineapple mint, juniper berry, green peppercorn and rosemary. And then there's the vodka. The flagship is the Blue Hen Vodka which is quadruple distilled and then charcoal filtered. For those who like infused varieties, the vodka is also distilled with vanilla, Belgium dark chocolate, blood oranges, mango and even pomegranate.

At the brewpub, customers can sample four combinations so we choose the gin, vodka and two rums, the Brown Honey Rum and the Dark Rum. The latter was not very impressive and actually rather harsh. It didn't have much aroma and the harshness overwhelmed any ability to taste the distilled molasses. The Brown Honey Rum was tamer and I liked the honey finish; but just a little too sweet for my tastes. However, it is a far superior product than the Wild Turkey Honey Bourbon. The best surprises, however, were the gin and vodka. I normally do not care for gin, but the Dogfish Jin displays a nice balance between the spirit and the botanicals. Sometimes the spices overwhelm the product, but not here - this was nicely done. My favorite, however, was the Blue Hen Vodka. This is money. Its extremely smooth - barely any burn. After dampening a little with a couple drops of water, a nice aroma arose and the taste became sweeter and even smoother. I'd have to say this version is on par with the Cold River Vodka from Maine Distilleries. No wonder the guy at the Dewey Beach liquor store said he couldn't keep this in stock. And next time you travel to the brewpub to drink some Midas Touch or Raison D'Etre - remember - there's also an array of spirits available.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Wine at the Eastern Shore: Nassau Valley Vineyards

While attending the Dewey Beach Music Conference we visited one of the local tourist attractions, Nassau Valley Vineyards. Peg Raley and her father, Bob Raley planted vines near the seashore over two decades ago and since Delaware prohibited farm wineries, Ms. Raley had to actually draft the legislation in order to permit wineries to legally operate in the state. Her draft legislation became law in 1991, and the winery opened two years later.

Nassau Valley Vineyards grow strictly viniferia grapes on their estate: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Initially, we had expected that the vineyard grew hybrids, thinking the climate was too hot for old world grapes. However, Ms. Raley informed us that the sandy soil provides excellent drainage and is very similar to the soil situated near the river banks in Bordeaux. As for the climate, Delaware's coastal region resembles that of New Jersey and Long Island as opposed to the hot, humid conditions further south. And even during the hot summer months, the grapes cool adequately in the evening.

The winery produces vintage wines and proprietary blends with these estate grown fruit. These wines are made dry and are their flagship products. These are the wines we tasted this day. Their 207 Chardonnay is fermented in steel, and then aged in French Oak for 9 months. It has the nice chardonnay flavor accompanied by appropriate texture at the finish - not too oaky and buttery - just enough to sense the oak. And priced at $16, is very reasonable. We tried two difference Cabernet Sauvignon wines, the 2005 and 2006 Vineyard Select. Not surprisingly the latter was far superior - more full bodied, stronger nose - a nice wine. The 2005, was too weak for our tastes. The 2006 Merlot "Adrift" is decent, dry with full cherry flavor - but we sort of lost interest after trying their Indian River Red "Vintner's Blend" - a proprietary blend of their Cabernet and Merlot grapes. This is the wine we took home with us - it is a classic Bordeaux wine - dry, full bodied - but extremely smooth - even with existing tannins. We plan to age this wine a little and compare with similar California versions.

In addition to the above wines, Nassau Valley Vineyards produces a range of semi-dry to sweet red and white wines from grapes sourced from the Finger Lakes region in New York. These are the hybrid grapes, Chambourcin, Delaware, Vidal Blanc, and Seyval Blanc. These wines are made in order to satisfy the demands of most of the visitors that were in the tasting room during our visit: tourists, vacationing at the beach - who prefer sweeter wines. Laurel's Red, a semi dry Chambourcin wine was a big seller as was the House White - a blend of Vidal Blanc and Seyval Blanc. Another example of why wineries produce sweeter wines; they sell.

On a final note, we encourage people to visit the winery in order to tour their wine museum. This facility describes the history of wine making and includes several artifacts of wines vessels, cork screws, and such. It is a nice addition to our visit.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Old Town Food & Wine Festival

This time of year we attempt to travel to NYC for that city's Wine and Food Festival; but this year we found a similar event closer to home: The Old Town Food & Wine Festival. This two day event (October 10th & 11th) is held in various locations in historic Alexandria Virginia and includes tastings of Virginia made wine as well as food seminars, demonstrations and wine dinners.

The festival provides the all important grand tasting (from 11AM to 6PM both days); but prudently at two different locations: Holiday Inn, 625 First Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 and Crowne Plaza Hotel, 901 North Fairfax, Alexandria VA 22314. This is a great idea, provide two locations to thin out the crowd and give greater access to the wines. And look who's pouring; the list includes some new wineries that we have not had a chance to visit:
There are also plenty of seminars. Each day starts with a Wine 101 seminar at the Grape and Bean Wine Bar. On the 10th, this follows with Joe David, Author of Gourmet Getaways; Andrew Stover on "ABCs-Emerging U.S. Wine Regions & Their Regional Delights" and Lauren DeSantis, "Cooking With Wine". Stover's seminar should be quite interesting since he's bringing wines from across the United States: Oregon, Idaho, Texas, Ohio, Michigan. We will not miss this one. The 11th includes both Joe David and Lauren DeSantis again, as well as Laurie Forster "East vs West: The Smackdown". If that's not enough several area restaurants are pairing Virginia made wine with their entries throughout the entire weekend.

This should be a fun and entertaining event. Thankfully it helps us avoid the hassles of traveling to New York and provides an enjoyable alternative in our own backyard.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Devils Backbone, Starr Hill win big at Great American Beer Festival

Following up on our post yesterday about craft brewers, last night we were notified that two breweries on the Blue Ridge Trail, Devils Backbone and Starr Hill won Gold Medals at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival in Denver. In fact, Devils Backbone was awarded four medals with a Gold going to their Gold Leaf Lager - a pilsner styled beer. Starr Hill, based out of Crozet, received a Gold for their Dark Starr Stout - an Irish styled stout. If you can't make a trip to the Charlottesville area, Starr Hill frequents most music festivals in the mid-Atlantic region. As for Devils Backbone, the brewery "rocks' Nelsen County" through regularly scheduled live music. As does its neighbor, Blue Mountain Brewery. Good beer and good music.....

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Craft Brewers Turn to Cans

A couple weeks back we listened to a NPR report on how craft breweries are moving towards canning their products; 45 craft breweries now can at least one of their brews. Despite any perceived biases towards canned beer, they do provide benefits - particularly blocking exposure from sunlight - the culprit responsible for skunky beer. Also the metal taste associated with canned beer has been eliminated by lining the insides with an epoxy-based resin. And like boxed wine - canned beer can be easily transported anywhere: boats, beach, picnics - you name it. However, there have been examples where in no situation will we consume a canned beer over its bottled sibling. The prime example is Tecate, where the canned version is far worse than bottled one. The same holds for PBR - one of our favorite domestic retro beers. Not sure why - maybe our personal tastes.

At that time of the NPR report, the only canned craft beer we had tasted was Dale's Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Brewery. We liked it, but thought nothing special. So one day we ventured into our local beer supplier, Norm's Beer & Wine, and were startled to see the array of canned products. Not only domestic craft producers from Oregon and Colorado, but several German breweries; truly a universal phenomenon. And in Virginia, we learned from this Washington Post article that Blue Mountain Brewery has become the first Virginia microbrewery to can its beer. We'll be heading down to Nelson County soon.

But at Norm's we decided to stick to Oskar Blues Brewery - the pioneers. Based on the Examiner's portrayal of the brewery's operation here - we purchased six packs of Old Chubb and Gordon. These are stronger ales than Dale's Pale Ale and we hoped would be a good representative of canned craft beer. And the Old Chubb is right up our alley. It's a Scottish ale, but a little smokier than most versions we frequently consume - but overall, very balanced and pleasing. Later we learned that the beer includes "a dash of beechwood-smoked grains imported from Bamburg, Germany, home of the world's greatest smoked beers". But served in a glass - no one would know it was canned. The Gordon was interesting, not necessarily from the vessel, but because of its ingredients - brewed to be a cross between an Imperial Red and a Double IPA. It's hoppy so beware - it took a few sips to become accustomed to the finish. Its very distinct - and I learned to consume this beer with a meal - as it cleanses the palate. Overall though, we preferred the Old Chubb.

So, next time you frequent your local beer supplier, take a hard look at the canned products. If you purchase one, remember, like any quality craft beer, canned craft beer should be consumed using a glass vessel.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Winemakers squeeze all they can from white grape crop

The Roanoke Times published a nice article on southwestern Virginia wineries and how they are coping with the weather.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Vintage Virginia & Octoberfest

Although we will most likely not be able to attend either, we wanted to make sure readers were aware of two good local festivals scheduled for the next couple of weeks. This weekend, the 19th & 20th, Across-the-Way Productions hosts the 28th Annual Vintage Virginia held at Bull Run Park in Centreville. Almost 50 wineries will be pouring their products from many established wineries to the newcomers, particularly Democracy Vineyards and New Kent Vineyards. And Keswick Vineyards may be pouring their Governors Cup Cabernet Sauvignon. There will also be plenty of craft vendors and good music (Beleza Brasil, Robert Jospe, Cherry Blossom String Quartet, Lisa Simone, and DJ Williams Projekt).

The following weekend, The Trigger Agency presents Das Best Oktoberfest - held at National Harbor Maryland. Besides the 100+ German produced or styled beers, they will be pouring German wine and schnapps. That means plenty of easy drinking Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Dornfelder, and Piesporter. For schnapps - try the Black Forest Kirschwasser, Kammer William Pear, and Barenjager Honey Liquer. Actually - blend some wine into the Barenjager for a nice change of pace. As for beer, make sure you try the Schneider Weiss, Bitburger, Erdinger, and the Kostritzer Black Beer. Need more incentive. Kelly Bell provides entertainment - see schedule below. Hopefully next year we can indulge.

Looking for Lester Pop 12:00 PM
Love Seed Mama Jump Rock 2:00 PM
The Kelly Bell Band Blues 6:00 PM

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tax Dollars to British distiller for Captain Morgan rum

As a general rule, we feel that any intervention by the government into the wine-beer-spirits industry usually causes more harm for both consumers and producers. And yet, we are left scratching our heads in bewilderment in this one instance in which the federal government is actively trying to assist a spirits producer. According to the Chicago Tribune, the administration is giving London-based Diageo PLC - makers of Captain Morgan - "$2.7 billion in tax breaks in building a state-of-the-art distillery on the island of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands". We have many reasons to doubt the logic of this move.

First of all, Diageo PLC is the world's largest spirits producer and made a $2.62 billion net profit from June 2008 to June 2009. Second, with record deficits, do we really want to subsidize billion dollar companies - talking about corporate welfare. Finally, Captain Morgan is currently produced in Puerto Rico - so its not like the government is trying to entice a company to move production from another country. The company is moving from one U.S. territory to another.

"The Virgin Islands government will finance the new $165 million distillery by issuing bonds... and the estimate it will create 40-70 jobs on the island." Let's do some math, if 70 jobs are created that means they spent $235,714 per job each year for 10 years. On the other hand, the Puerto Rican government claims that their island could lose up to 300 jobs. I have a suggestion, why don't we just let Diageo PLC use portions of their $2.62 billion net profit to finance the move.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tequila 101

Many American’s first experience with tequila is through over-sugary concoctions labeled as Margaritas or even worse, alcoholic induced shots with salt and lime. Basically tequila was used as a means to an end and no thought was given to the merits of the spirit. Fortunately this pattern is changing and tequila is in the mists of a growing renaissance as Americans are starting to share the same appreciation for the spirit that our southern neighbors have given it for centuries. Mixologists are substituting tequila in well know cocktails and creating Añejo Manhattans, or Bloody Marias, or teqilia based caipirinhas. Bars are stocking a broader array of brands - from higher quality white tequilas to more expensive aged varieties. But in our household, like many others, Tequila is served neat in a caballito or snifter, with just a splash of water. If it’s a quality product, it should be drunk casually, with the aromas, taste, and finish speaking for itself. And in fact, we have found many tequilas that are on par with our collection of single malt Scotch, single barrel Bourbons, and aged Rums.

Tequila is North America’s oldest distilled spirit and its lineage derives from an even older spirit – Mezcal – both made from the agave plant. In fact, some form of alcohol has been produced from agave juice for the past millennium. Like most spirits, there are strict regulations regarding the production of tequila. For instance, the spirit must be fermented and distilled with at least 51% agave juice and these are referred to as "mixtos". The remaining 49% must consist of natural sugars such as corn syrup, molasses, or cane juice. However, the higher end tequilas are produced from 100% Blue Agave – no sugar substitutes here.

Another regulation is that tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and limited regions in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas – "The Tequila Region". It is in these regions were the agava plant thrives in the volcanic soil – yet there are differences within these regions. Plants grown in the highlands are fruitier than their lowland brethren because they receive more sunlight during the day. On the other hand, plants harvested from the lowlands tend to be earthier – sort of like the Old World-New World wine comparisons.

Finally, in order to be called tequila, the spirit must be double distilled and then diluted with water to between 35-55% alcohol by volume (abv) or 70-110 proof. Single distilled agave juice is simply a Mezcal - which includes one brand that contains a worm. It is a pop culture myth that tequilas contain worms.

Once the tequila has finished the distillation process, it can undergo five different levels of aging. If aged less than two months in either oak or stainless steel before bottling the tequila is referred to as Blanco – or on occasion Plata (silver). Some in this category, particularly the mixtos variety, are the cheap tequilas served in bland sugary cocktails or thoughtless shots. However, for more high-end tequila’s, Blancos are excellent indicators of a distiller’s craft – there is no oak or additives to camouflage defects in the product. Joven (Young) or Oro (Gold) is another category where the blanco tequila is blended with older tequilas or given an extra dose of caramel coloring – syrup – or oak extract to resemble in an aged product.

However, there are three other categories of truly aged tequilas. Reposado refers to tequilas that have “rested” from a minimum of two months to less than a year in oak barrels. The barrel must be made of oak – but there is no requirement like with bourbon - that the oak must be new. A much more practical decision. Because of the increased popularity of tequila, many people have tasted or at least are familiar with the next category: Añejo. To be included in this designation, the tequila must age at least one to three years in oak. Those that are aged more than three years are included in the newest category: Extra Añejo – established in 2006.

As with other wine, beer, and spirits, tequila is experiencing a renaissance with more brands available than any time in history – approximately 150 different distillers producing over nine hundred different brands. And many of these are high quality, 100% blue agava products. Alright. Some of these brands will be served at the 3rd Annual Spirits of Mexico Tasting Competition held September 10 & 11 2009 in San Diego California.

And on the 12th, these brands will be available for a public tasting; but what is the proper technique for tasting tequila? In general it is very similar to wine. Start with the lightest first – which means sampling each Blanco, then moving on to the Reposados and then the Añejos. For each tequila, follow the advice of Jaime Salas, National Tequila Ambassador for Tres Generaciones: "…First, 'observe' the color. Second, 'nose' or smell the aromas, and third 'taste' the flavors". At the nose determine if the tequila exudes agave notes or over-powering alcohol. If it’s the later, leave it alone. When tasting the tequila it should have a smooth taste, with some crispness, similar to a mildly acidic white wine. The agave flavor should be prevalent and for reposado or añejo versions – followed by oak flavors at the finish. Ever have tequila with those characteristics? You should. In the next few weeks leading up to this event we will be posting suggestions from industry professionals not only how the tequila’s will be judged but also more tasting suggestions. Salud.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

FloydFest Beer Garden

One of the best features of FloydFest is that they provide a Beer Garden for patrons who would like to indulge while listening to music. Alcohol policy varies by festival with some banning all alcohol, whereas others provide alcohol throughout the general festival grounds. FloydFest strikes a balance by providing the aforementioned beer garden with its own stage and for the first time, a beer tent adjacent to the main stage. They also promote local producers of beer and wine - particularly the two neighboring wineries: Chateau Morrisette and Villa Appalaccia Winery. Chateau Morrisette offers most of their sweet portfolio at the festival to fullfil the tastes of the attendees with their sangria easily being the most popular drink. Villa Appalaccia's wines are drier - but very drinkable during the day in the Italian tradition in which they are based.

As for beer, Charlottesville's Starr Hill Brewing is a constant at major festivals and we've always liked their Wheat, Pale Ale and Amber Ale. There were two new breweries this year, Radford's The River Company Restaurant and Brewery and Winston-Salem's Foothills Brewing. For only being open a few months, The River Company Restaurant and Brewery, makes a good hefeweisen while I liked Foothills Brewing's Pilsner and Pale Ale. Ironically, we cared the least for the most popular brewery, Magic Hat Brewing Company. The red colored summer ale was boring, not even refreshing, and the other beer I sampled was so nondescript I can't remember it.

Now if you liked the wine at the event, the tasting rooms for both the winery's were open throughout the festival. In addition, these wineries share a tasting facility in downtown Floyd with two other local producers: Blacksnake Meadery and Foggy Ridge Cider. We brought enough home to keep us stocked until our next visit to Floyd.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Guest Article: Developing a taste for Norton Wines

Think back on items that you had to develop a taste for in the past. Coffee, hopefully unsuccessfully tobacco products, or maybe single malt Scotch? Fortunately, acquiring a taste for Norton wines is a bit simpler, if you give yourself the luxury of visiting different vineyards, tasting various examples and discovering which wineries you prefer. I have collected so far a database of 150 vineyards producing Norton wines in twenty states! Somewhere out there in the Midwest or Southeast is that perfect Norton wine to match your preferences. If you are unable to visit these vineyards, possibly you will be enticed into ordering directly some noted references found in this article.

The costs, quality, and types of wines have been interesting to observe over the past 35 years. The places of selection also play into this, be it a liquor store, grocery store, big box discount stores or now, ~ a local vineyard. With today’s explosion of vineyards in all 50 states, the choices become mind boggling. With this explosion comes gifts from friends, to include wines that you have never heard of before. All this rambling brings us back to the subject of the Norton wine.

Our first gift of Norton wine, also known semi-incorrectly as Cynthiana, came with ‘family connections’ from a New Haven, Missouri vineyard, Robller Winery. We were so lucky that this first bottle inked our curiosity into the subject of Norton. It was years later, learning that the Norton grape was also present in Virginia, we decided to investigate Norton wine possibilities. Passing through Virginia on a trip north; we took the time to explore nine vineyards offering Norton wines. A few years back there were only a handful of vineyards growing Norton grapes in Virginia, but today there are 23 wineries sporting this wine (*vineyards visited):

Abingdon Vineyard & Winery *( Abingdon, VA
Belle Mount Vineyards (( Warsaw, VA
Bluemont Vineyard *( Bluemont, VA
Burnley Vineyards *( Barboursville, VA
Casanel Vineyards ( Leesburg, VA
Castle Gruen Winery ( Locust Dale, VA
Chrysalis Vineyards *( Middleburg, VA
Cooper Vineyards *( Louisa, VA
Dry Mill Winery ( Leesburg, VA
DuCard Vineyards ( Madison County, VA
Horton Vineyards *( Gordonsville, VA
Keswick Vineyards *( Keswick, VA
Misty Ray Winery ( Harrisonburg, VA
Mountain Cove Vineyards ( Lovington, VA
Paradise Springs Winery ( Clifton, VA
Peaks of Otter Winery ( Bedford, VA
Potomac Point Winery ( Stafford, VA
Rappahannock Cellars ( Huntly, VA
Rockbridge Vineyards *( Raphine, VA
Valhalla Vineyards ( Roanoke, VA
Veramar Vineyard ( Berryville, VA
Virginia Wineworks ( Charlottesville, VA
Winery at La Grange *( Haymarket, VA

However, the taste of these Virginia Norton wines from the east coast did not resemble what we remembered from the Missouri gift of years past. All interesting, but oh so different. Maybe this was the best state to start our Norton tastings as the examples varied wildly, and it was easy to tell which selections we preferred. On a scale of ‘5’ being the best, we found mostly 2s and 3s, but more importantly a Norton that gingerly bumped the “4” marker.

Before going any further, it is important to state with all Norton wines, do not base your tasting on a freshly opened bottle of Norton wine. All Norton wines need to breathe for an extensive amount of time. Here again, as with most wines, do not base your tasting on your first sip since the second paused sip will settle your senses, and by your fifth-ninth-twelfth-etc. sips, you will be exuding an unquestionable Norton grin. Likewise, take advantage of Norton blends which combine the characteristics of this varietal grape, yet create a balance of complex flavors. To name a few sites which we enjoyed:

The two Virginia heavies in Norton wine production would be Horton and Chrysalis vineyards. I would say that Horton's mission is to introduce to the general public a good Norton wine at a fair price and to this they unquestionably succeed. Chrysalis, on the other hand, wants to produce Norton examples with a full range of tastes and cost. Both of these vineyards are fine examples of the east coast Norton varietal. Our favorite east coast Norton wines on this exploration turned out to be from two small farm-like venues: Cooper Winery, a fine dry red Norton, and from Pennsylvania's Stone Mountain Wine Cellars, a delightful “fruity” Norton. Both were wonderful variations on a theme of Norton grapes. As for a soft and easy tasting table-wine Norton, don't pass up Abingdon Vineyard's Norton.

Obviously, it is time for my wife and me to return to Virginia and try the offerings of other Norton wineries from this state. You will quickly develop your own Norton palate preferences while visiting the many geographical vineyard settings from the coastal rivers to the Shenandoah mountains. Wander the beautiful Virginia countryside for yourself and I promise that you will find several Norton surprises.

On to Missouri where the choices become harder. Virginia has now 23 out of 133 wineries producing Norton wines. I found Missouri has 49 (another report has 53) wineries producing Norton wines! One statement made from a Norton wine web page was not to compare a Norton wine to any similar wine from Europe or from California. Likewise, I would say not to compare Virginia Norton wines to Missouri Norton wines as they are produced under different climatic and soil situations. The same grape, but grown in two different agricultural scenarios.

We found several large producers of Norton wines in Missouri; as, Crown Valley, St. James, and Stone Hill. Crown Valley has an enormous wine production program making various Nortons in tremendous volume. St. James Winery has a similar mission as Virginia’s Horton Winery in that they want to educate and introduce to its public good, affordable wines. Don't let these affordable $6 prices dissuade you into thinking that these are only "cheaper" wines. On the contrary, their $10 middle priced Norton and sometimes available $15ish “Reserve” Norton wine are bargain wines and stand up well to the best-that-Missouri has to offer. To tell you our favorite Missouri Norton wine becomes a hard chore. Let me list a few with comments:

Chandler Hill Vineyards may be the new kid on the block, but what a taste explosion they laid introducing their Norton "Savage" wine. After participating in a dinner tasting of six notable Missouri Nortons at St. Louis' 2008 Norton Wine Festival, this came out an overall first at our table from publicly available selections. This is an interesting winery that is proud of its historic surroundings and goes to great lengths to preserve their history.

Blumenhof Winery produces an award winning Norton wine they have cleverly named "Original CYN". Unfortunately they ship directly only to MO & CA, but I have found that the Missouri Mercantile wine distributor will secure this wine for shipment. Order quickly because they always sell out by early fall. This is a vineyard working hand-in-hand with nature, providing a vineyard tree edge which accepts a 10% loss of grapes to its finely fed feathered friends.

Montelle Winery is now a sister winery to Augusta Winery. Simply stated, this is a fine Norton wine which they call ‘Cynthiana’ at great case prices. I’ll slip in a little note here that has nothing to do with Norton wines, ~ have you ever tried a Chardonel wine? Though I don’t normally pick up whites and even more remotely, don’t consider semi-sweet wines, Montelle’s Chardonel is a good starting point of learning about this Cornell University introduction. (“As a cross of the famed Chardonnay grape with the popular Seyval, Chardonel is usually barrel fermented, very dry and full bodied. This is great with heavier seafood dishes as well as chicken with cream sauces.”

I throw in another Norton wine producer for different reasons. River Ridge Winery is a friendly out-from-the-beaten path winery with a Norton offering that is unique in that you get to contrast two barreled Norton wines. The same grapes from the same location, but one called Norton (aged in American Oak) and the other named Cynthiana (aged in French Oak).

Röbller Vineyard & Winery makes a Norton that sits right in the middle offering a great value wine that successfully caters to tastes that go the gamete north-to-south / east-to-west. Need a picnic or dinner wine? This one can go either place. We started our Norton experience here and will return to this site for many years to come. A robust Norton wine and as importantly, nice people.

A winery we found on this year’s trip west was Oak Glenn Winery & Vineyard. Though we haven’t settled on a family ranking of this wine, it is strange that we keep going back to this case, and before long it will be all gone.

To conclude my Missouri tasting treats, let me add Heinrichshaus Winery. I include this small winery because its proprietor insists that Cynthiana grapes were a sport of Norton grapes and his wines are "true" Cynthiana. He'll even show you the pictured differences between the growing habits of the grape clusters. Supposedly there is not any controversy about the Cynthiana/Norton grape any more, . . . . . . . . . . or is it?

Planning a Missouri wine tasting road tour? This is a selected list of vineyards we would consider returning to or visiting for the first time (*vineyards visited and enjoyed):

Adam Puchta Winery *( Hermann, MO
Augusta Winery *( Augusta, MO
Baltimore Bend Vineyard ( Waverly, MO
Bethlehem Valley Vineyards ( Marthasville, MO
Blumenhof Winery *( Marthasville, MO
Bommarito Estate Winery *( New Haven, MO
Cave Vineyard *( Ste. Genevieve, MO
Chandler Hill *( Defiance, MO
Charleville Vineyards ( Ste. Genevieve, MO
Chaumette Vineyards & Winery ( Ste. Genevieve, MO
Claverach Farm & Vineyards ( Eureka, MO
Crown Valley Winery *( Ste. Genevieve, MO
Durso Hills Vineyard & Winery ( Marquand, MO
Eagle’s Nest Winery ( Louisiana, MO
Eichenberg Winery ( Cole Camp, MO
Grey Bear Vineyards ( Stover, MO
Heinrichshaus Vineyard & Winery *( St. James, MO
Indian Creek Winery ( Monroe City, MO
Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery ( Platte City, MO
Keltoie Vineyard ( Oronoga, MO
La Dolce Vita Vineyard & Winery ( Washington, MO
Little Hills Winery ( St. Charles, MO
Montelle Winey *( Augusta, MO
Montserrat Vineyards ( Knob Noster, MO
Mount Pleasant Winery *( Augusta, MO
Native Stone Vineyard ( Jefferson City, MO
New Oak Vineyards ( Wellington, MO
Oak Glenn Vineyards & Winery *( Hermann, MO
Oovvda Winery ( Springfield, MO
River Ridge Winery *( Commerce, MO
Robller Vineyard Winery *( New Haven, MO
St. James Winery *( St. James, MO
Stone Hill Winery *( Hermann, MO
Stonehaus Farms Winery ( Lee’s Summit, MO
Summit Lake Winery ( Holts Summit, MO
Terre Beau Vineyards ( Dover, MO
Twin Oaks Vineyards ( Farmington, MO
Vance Vineyards ( Fredericktown, MO
Westphalia Vineyards ( Westphalia, MO
Whispering Oaks Winery ( Seymour, MO

Now the problem of selecting a Norton wine becomes more complicated after concluding a recent search of Illinois Norton vineyards. Oh, shucks, Illinois has 22 vineyards producing Norton wines. It looks like another trip is brewing.

As stated before, your Norton wines will benefit by decanting, which in turn mellows the strong Norton tannins and balances the flavors when served. Consider putting away your findings for a few years. We have found a little patience goes a long way with Norton wines.

I have to stop typing now as my doctor-minister-wine aficionado-brother-in-law has just walked in the door with a Three Sisters Vineyard Norton exclaiming “you have to taste this outstanding Georgia Cynthiana”. Did I mention that Georgia now has four Norton vineyards? Oh, well – we can talk about this later.

Boris Bauer
Easley, SC