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.