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.