Thursday, December 30, 2010

WineCompass & MyJoogTV on Wine & Dine Radio

Earlier this month we participated in an episode of Wine & Dine Radio hosted by Broadcast Journalist, Oral Wine Historian Lynn Krielow Chamberlain. This is a very entertaining broadcast where Ms. Krielow Chamberlain incorporates five 10-minute segments on various topics within the wine and culinary industries. Makes it easy not to lose interest with such short segments.

We participated in a discussion on the evolution of into Our episode also includes Rollin Soles, Co- Founder and Winemaker, Argyle Winery, Dundee, Oregon, Willamette Valley; Jessie Niewoldt and Kate Connors, Center for Wine Origins; Frederick T. Merwarth, owner-operator, Winemaker, Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Dundee, New York, Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes; and Michael Giarraputo, Founder and CEO, Think Tank® Wine Company.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A New Gin Comes to Town: Martin Miller's Gin

We were recently informed of a new Gin introduced to the market by English hotelier and entrepreneur Martin Miller: Martin Miller’s Gin. The spirit is made of "juniper from Tuscany and India, Cassia bark from China, angelica from France and florentine from Florence delicately blended with pure Icelandic spring water, to create a marriage of rare softness, clarity of taste and appearance. Among many awards, Martin Miller’s Gin has taken home two out of three possible gold medals in the blind-tasting 10th Anniversary Strength gins by the International Spirits Challenge."

According to Miller, the 4 components to make a good gin are: 1.) The ‘Base’ Spirit from which the gin is made by re-distillation; this must be grain spirit of the highest quality and consistency. 2.) The recipe which by strict tradition is always very secret. 3.) The ingredients themselves. Only the richest and finest. Martin Miller’s will consist of dark purple, puckered juniper berries harvested from the hills of Tuscany, India, of Macedonia. 4.) Last but not least, the equipment used to make the Gin. Martin Miller’s consists of a single three story high, balloon bellied, Samovarish pot still named Angela in what is said to be the ‘Rolls Royce’ of Gin Stills. However, not satisfied with the depth of this description, we submitted additional questions which Mr. Miller was kind enough to answer:

1. How long did it take you to produce your first batch - from conceptualizing, to design, to actual implementation?

It took us about 18 months. We started back in 1998, and the gin was finished to my satisfaction by the summer of 1999, when we launched. The idea was formed in a typical London Pub, when I was served what was supposed to be a Gin and Tonic – 75 proof gin, one ice cube, a slice of preserved lemon and dreadful gun tonic. It was that moment when I realized just how far standards for gin had fallen in the face of the relentless march of vodka. I needed to create a gin that would put a smile back on the face of gin drinkers, myself included. It was time for a Gin Renaissance.

2.Where is the actual distilling facility?

The gin distillery is situated in the Black Country, just west of Birmingham.

3. Which grains to you use to create the base spirit and where are they grown?

The grain we use is barley, which is grown in East Anglia, for the most part.

4. Our readers are becoming interested in organically made spirits. Does Martin Miller's Gin qualify?

When I first conceived the idea for Martin Miller’s, the idea was not a commercial consideration, rather, it was to simply make the best gin possible, without considering the cost or time involved. Organic or not, our first and only consideration was whether or not this process or ingredient takes us closer to making the perfect gin. Personally speaking, I am suspicious of spirits claiming to be organic. Take for example, Juniper Berries. Their quality varies enormously year to year in a wide variety locations, be that Tuscany, Macedonia or India. We always source the best available berries from whatever location is delivering the highest quality that year. If we were to apply for organic status, this would compromise our ability to switch and change our sources as quality varied. Gin is not a product of ‘terroir’. In the case of wines, I can see a strong case for organic but with gin and other white spirits, I see it as more of a marketing claim, no more, no less.

5. What is your water supply for creating the mash?

The water used for the mash is from a spring within the distillery, but what’s more important to Martin Miller’s is the water that we use for blending; after all, this water is anything from 50 to 60% of the liquid in the bottle.

For blending, we use Icelandic Spring Water, which is simply the purest and softest naturally occurring water to be found on the planet. Its super softness and purity give us a very gentle and ordered delivery of the botanicals and aromatics, making it the perfect water for blending gin. It’s very expensive for us to do this, but the usual de-mineralised water used to blend most spirits simply doesn’t measure up.

6. How many times is the base spirit distilled - do you use just the heart, or also re-distill the head and tail?

Martin Miller’s is pot distilled in small batches; each batch is a single distillation. We use only the heart of the spirit, as the heads and tails are discarded. The copper still is over a hundred years old, and we use the traditional method of maceration and direct distillation rather than the ‘tea bag’ steaming process. Most importantly, Martin Miller’s is the only gin to employ two separate and distinct distillations; one for the Juniper and one for the ‘earthier’ botanicals, the dried citrus peels,. The two distillates are then ‘married’ to create the final distillate. This gives us a clarity to the citrus notes without them overpowering the juniper.

7. How did you determine which juniper berries to use?

Simply from the quality of the oils they produce, and nothing more. Provenance and cost are not a consideration.

8.What other botanicals are infused into the Gin that you can reveal?

From the beginning, I wanted to improve on the classic recipe for gin. The fashion these days is to add all manner of exotic and increasingly outlandish ‘botanicals’ to gin, though what they all bring to the party baffles me. Our fashion was to stick to the traditional ‘pallette’ of botanicals; juniper, cassia, angelica, coriander, Florentine iris, with, of course, the addition of bitter orange and lemon peel. I wanted to create a gin that tasted like a good gin should – only more so! So, the brief was to be creative with the traditional botanicals.

9. What is a "Samovarish" still and what advantages does it give compared to other pot stills? - Sounds very Russian.

Well, the still that we use looks pretty Russian too! As a matter of fact, the still shape has quite an influence on the final spirit. We tried spirit from several different stills before settling on ‘Angela’, the still we use to this day.

10. What are the retail price points?

I’m the wrong person to ask! That’s a question for the whizz kid marketing boys to answer. All I know is that they constantly complain about what they call the ‘high cost of goods’ and I simply tell them that it’s not my problem. In the US, I believe that we sell the 80 proof product for around $25 and my beloved Westbourne Strength Martin Millers for around $35. At those prices, I think we’re practically giving it away!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

LAN Rioja Crianza 2006 and Other Value Wines

I had to stop in and select a few wines rather quickly at our local wine store, Norm's Beer & Wine, and stumbled upon a huge surprise: the LAN Rioja Crianza 2006 retailing for $13.99. This Spanish Tempranillo wine is the bomb, full of cherry flavors with traditional old world earthiness on the tail. Aged 12 months in French and American oak. Tannins and acidity balance nicely. This wine replaces the Antis Malbec Reserve, which we also purchased at that time, as our favorite value red. We learned later that even WIne Spectator shared our views, being #44 Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2010. Not too shabby.

That evening we also consumed two other value wines, the Honey Moon Viognier made popular by our friend Dezel at My Vine Spot and the Domaine Barry Cotes du Rhone 2008, the first priced at $5.99, the latter at $8.99. I did say value wines. Apparently the Viognier has declined slightly in quality, but it is still refreshing, slightly acidic wine with strong peach flavors. The Cotes du Rhone, on the other hand, is nothing special; just a decent drinking wine. And don't bother trying to research; most sites have it listed as a Bordeaux wine containing Cabernet Franc and Merlot. In reality, being a Rhone wine, it was most likely composed of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Roussanne, or Cinsault.

Friday, December 10, 2010

MyJoogTV Episode 7: Tom Principato at the Mad Fox Brewing Company

This episode of MyJoogTV features Washington-based bluesman Tom Principato in a discussion of beer and blues with Mad Fox Brewing Company head brewer and proprietor Bill Madden. We've been following Principato's career ever since listening to Blazing Telecasters - Danny Gatton & Tom Principato way back in the early 90's. He is now releasing a new CD, "A Part of Me", which includes "some of the Washington D.C. area's best musicians who I've been recording and performing with for years: Steve Wolf, Tommy Lepson, Josh Howell and Jay Turner". Principato is considered a "Master" of the Fender Telecaster and Statocaster and he explains the difference. The bluesman also just returned from a successful European tour so in anticipation to that trip, we sampled a few European-styled brews crafted by Madden. We also learned about Madden's voyage from being a student brewer to now, an accomplished brewer owning a restaurant and a judge in the Great American Beer Festival. The episode concludes with the Tom Principato Band performing "Down in Lou'siana", a track from "A Part of Me" at the Second Chance Saloon in Columbia, Maryland. Cheers.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Brewer and Musician Extraordinaire: Kyle Hollingsworth

We learned recently the The String Cheese Incident keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth is a very accomplished home brewer, having been invited to craft signature beers at several Colorado breweries. And next week he continues to release signature beers, through the three night Hoppy Holidays series, where Hollingsworth performs with the Kyle Hollingsworth Band and in between sets introduces the audience to some craft beer. The events are modeled after previous Hollingsworth happenings such as Kyle’s Brew Fest and the Rock & Brew Tour, where Hollingsworth introduces his musical fans to excellent craft brewed beers - many his signature beers. The first two nights feature beers crafted between Kyle and Boulder Beer Company and are held at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver on the 10th and Hodi's Half Note in Fort Collins on the 11th. The series culminates with a fundraiser at Avery Brewing on the 12th where proceeds from the evening benefits Conscious Alliance, a charity feeding impoverished communities. This event is unique in that it will be held in Avery Brewing's barrel room - music as well as tasting beer from the Hollingsworth\Avery collaboration.

Leading up to these events we had a chance to discuss with Hollingsworth his brewing experience. He started at an early age, 18 or 19 years of age - when consumption of alcohol was legal at that age. At the time he lived in Baltimore and purchased a home brew kit at a store in nearby Ellicott City. He remembers enjoying the beers from the old Sisson's Brewpub (now Heavy Seas Brewery) and wanted to reproduce those quality beers. His first brew was a light lager, but he quickly turned to Porters, not only for its amicable characteristics, but also because it seemed easier to produce. He remained a leisurely home brewer until he relocated to Colorado where the presence of a vibrant brewing community elevated his interest. He decided to become a more serious home brewer and even received advice from home brew guru Charlie Papazian author of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Third Edition (Harperresource Book).

Because of the heavy touring regularly scheduled for The String Cheese Incident, Hollingsworth only brews a handful of times a year. Music is still the number one priority. He used to schedule brewing so he would have a six pack to bring on the road, but over the years has had to ask others to babysit the bottles. Today he store's his beer in Kegerators, so the nightmare of an amateur bottling line has ended. And since his band mates don't really share his strong attraction to craft beers - no kegs on the bus. His palette has also changed over the years where today he prefers the hoppy India Pale Ale styles.

But what has kept him attracted to crafting beer is its similarity to writing music. At some point they both require a creative "leap of faith" whether trying something new in the brewing process (using a new grain or adding a botanical like sassafras) or mixing in a new style of music. The result of this attraction will be on display next week in Colorado.

To learn more about Hollingsworth check out this video from his YouTube channel. If you are new to Untying the Not, and branch out from there.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wine-Compass, MyJoog, and Digital Media Generation Announce the Launch of MyJoogTV

Its now official: The Official Announcement is located here. Looking forward to more entertaining episodes in 2011.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Searching for Muscadine in South Carolina

While driving to Florida we usually stop along the way to either visit a winery or pick up a unique offering at a stop. On this trip we came upon the Hyman Vineyards Southern Sunshine at a stop in Santee South Carolina. The winery crafts several styles of muscadine wines ranging from dry to sweet and we selected the dry version of the Southern Sunshine. This is a light bodied wine which displays the traditional characteristics you would expect from a muscadine: grapey aroma and flavor and zero tannins. And since it was made dry, no gritty or syrupy sugars to overwhelm the palette. This is a good representative of how a muscadine wine should be crafted. And served slightly chilled, it was a refreshing drink in the Florida sun; yes its hot in south Florida - even in November.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Beers

We enjoyed two interesting beers for Thanksgiving: the Shipyard Brewing Company Pumpkinhead Ale and the Inlet Brewing Company Monk In the Trunk. The later is a fruity (apricots) and slightly spicy Belgium styled ale crafted using authentic Belgian Abbey yeast. The flavor profile is slightly sweet with the spices dominating the nose and the tail. Plus its made from organic ingredients. The Pumpkinhead Ale may be the best pumpkin styled seasonal we have tasted. We usually avoid these beers since many are overly spiced with nutmeg or pumpkin additives. On the other hand, this beer displays just a hint of the pumpkin and spices and allows the characteristics of the malt and hops to surface. Nicely done.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lou Foppiano turns 100, celebrates in Healdsburg

Our favorite maker of Petite Sirah at Foppiano Vineyards turns 100. Just imagine the changes in the wine industry that he has witnessed. Also, a great place to visit; read about our tour.

History of North Carolina Wine

Here is a very informative article regarding North Carolina wine.I didn't know that Westbend Vineyards is the oldest continually operating winery in the state.

Friday, November 19, 2010

MyJoogTV Episode 6: Andrew McKnight at Catoctin Creek Distilling Company

This episode of MyJoogTV features our new favorite folk singer Andrew McKnight and distiller Scott Harris of Catoctin Creek Distilling Company. We discussed the distillation process for organic rye whiskey, social media, government regulation of spirits, and how McKnight and the Harris' are kindred spirits regarding the eat, drink, and play music locally. The Roundstone Rye we sampled was excellent, lighter than many bourbons, but flavorful and completely smooth at the tail. The highlight of the afternoon was listening to McKnight perform "Letter to Colonel Mosby" while sitting on an oak barrel in front of the still. At, we are followers of "Free the Grapes, now it's time to Free the Shine. The video is available to download for iTunes and Windows Media Player.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

From the The Norton Wine Travelers: Southwest Missouri Norton Wines

Another guest post from our friends, The Norton Wine Travelers.

Missouri is known for its many established wineries west of St. Louis along river ways, old railway lines, the Katy bike path, historical towns, and even Interstates, but now explorations to vineyards in other geographical areas are slowly becoming part of that "show me" more state attitude when it comes to wines.

Southwest Missouri Norton Wines

Discovering Norton wines in Southwest Missouri is quite a driving adventure from rural farm settings near the Kansas-Missouri border, getting lost in the maze of Branson tourist traffic, traveling down long gravel roads, visiting a university fruit experimental station, figuring out winery traffic flow along Interstate byways and finding lovely home vineyards.

Branson Ridge Winery took a bit of planning to locate in downtown Branson, MO's river front walking mall. It was quickly apparent that this boutique deli-winery was only a store front, make believe winery endeavor. The plastic sippy cups reflected what could be found here in wines. Though we thought we were getting hard sour tastes with no aromas, it was hard assessing a Norton wine under these circumstances. The young hosting waitresses were obviously not interested in their customers, so we left for a "Broadway" show, eating elsewhere and purchasing the next day a case of Missouri wines from the other two more reputable Branson, MO resources.

The Branson, MO Stone Hill Winery is an outlet store of sorts. Some wines that I asked for here were reportedly only available from the Hermann, MO winery. What a bummer. The Branson location is perfect for a store interested in selling wine related clothes, napkins, candles, place-mats, coasters, glasses, cards, dishes, magnets, oven mitts, aprons, soaps, T-shirts, party foods, and yes, ~ most of Stone Hill Wines offerings. A nice touch was the closed door tasting room so that one would not be distracted with the dog and pony show on the main floor. I appreciated the well trained knowledgeable Vietnam Vet who served us. Nothing was rushed as he attended to several parties at one time. Available for tasting were 25 different wines. An especially nice Dry Vignoles was served, a reasonably priced solid Chambourcin, and a good, but unexciting Norton (Gold Medal, Pacific Rim International winner, - must reflect on how little I know about wines). Sorry, I forgot to scribble down the year of this wine. Most disappointing was that the Governor?s Gold Medal '07 and '08 Cross J Vineyard Nortons were not available at this store and only available in Hermann, MO. We were only able to buy the 2006 Cross J Vineyard Norton in the blind (no opportunity to taste). This was a sad situation for those who truly wish to follow the Norton wine trail. Most wines were reasonably priced mixed in with reserve type examples whose quality and aging deemed higher tags.

Two years ago we had a hard time rationalizing purchases at Mt. Pleasant Winery in Augusta, MO. Their Estate Norton was overpriced compared to quality Norton wines which could be found in nearby wineries. We settled on a case of "Ten Bucks" (bucks as in deer) sparkling wine as Christmas gifts and a couple expensive, yet good Tawny Ports. This year we were confronted in Branson, MO with Mt. Pleasant Winery's 2006 Estate Norton wine, and in spite of the high end price, it was hard to turn down after tasting this complex wine which had been aged in Missouri white oak for two years. The Branson, MO store is a beautiful new facility with a strikingly high center ceiling. Close to the Stone Hill Winery store, but a bit of a trick to find across the street, down the hill and around a curve. The effort to find this store front is worth the effort. On a further Norton note, be aware that we found a grocery shelf Mt. Pleasant Winery Norton for only $9.00. We couldn't turn this down, but please you don't make the same mistake. How could Mt. Pleasant Winery put their name on something this bad? After only a small sample glass, we instinctively poured the remaining contents of the bottle down the drain.

We searched out Le Cave Vineyards and made quite an effort to find this winery which supposedly sported a $50 Norton that one could not taste before purchase. Well fear not about the cost of the Norton, for it seems that this vineyard may now be closed. We found a closed winery service area and grapes drying in the sun on the trellised rows. Bummer that we had to discover the hard way, but it was more or less on our extended travel route. It never hurts to call in advance in remotely located vineyards, but in this case we just enjoyed the ride through the Missouri countryside.

Keltoi Vineyard is situated in SW Missouri near the Kansas border. It's always fun to be greeted by a friendly dog that either wants to mark your tires or escort you to the winery. Lots of interesting named labels; as, Irish Raindrops, Moon Drops, Biddy Early, Autumn Memories, and Nine Ladies, but it will take Erv Langan, Keltoi's owner and vintner, to explain the label's names and give you hints of the wines' makeup. Lots of serious experimentation here in a climate that pushes the limits of many of the estate grown Vidal, Seyval, Chardonnay, Chardonel, Norton, Baco Noir, Marechal Foch, Villard Noir and St. Vincent grapes. I found Keltoi's Norton still a bit immature and lacking the character of Norton that I'm use to, but as the vines age I think we will be finding appealing Norton wines coming someday from this part of the state. Already Keltoi is serving up a most robust 100% St. Vincent wine. This wine is not for everyone (including my wife who preferred the Irish Raindrops Vidal-Chardonnay blend), but I found most fascinating and worthy of purchase.

7C's Winery is taking on quite an undertaking in establishing a new rural presence, producing wines within the first couple years of operation, and now planting 3,400 vines on five nearby acres. In such a short time of opening, Dwight and Jean Crevelt are producing a remarkable collection of wines. They gladly admit that today they are bringing in grapes from the Columbia and Augusta, MO areas, but that will change in just a few years. Their Branding Iron White (Chardonel-Vidal blend) had unique fruity overtones and their Norton wine was worthy of picking up and packing away for a few more years to see what develops. And while you are here, try the best of what can be conjured up in Meads. You will be surprised with 7C's Winery new offerings. There was a free tasting for up to six wines per person or a $5 charge to taste all the wines and keeping their 7c's wine glass. We enjoyed their hospitality.

OOVVDA Wines has now been open for five years, but Jim Overboe, the vintner, admits that this long time hobby is a venture gone wild. Here you will find only a few select grape wines accompanied by some remarkable fruit wines. What a collection of Apple, Black Raspberry, Blackberry, and Red Raspberry wines (Red Plum not available when we were there). Maybe the best dry Blackberry wine we have ever tasted. An interesting dry Reliance grape table wine and a long tasting, pretty light yellow Traminette was introduced to us. Under the heading of dry reds was a sampling of Chambourcin and three Norton wines, an un-oaked '08, a light oaked '09, and a heavy oaked Norton Reserve. I did not find OOVVDA's Norton wines distinctive, but the '09 did intrigue me with its passing clove taste (something no one else seemed to pick up on).

Located east of Seymour, MO on Hwy 60 is Whispering Oaks Vineyard and Winery. This winery has benefited from vines that are at least 13 years old and situated on the second highest ridge (1600?) in Missouri. The elevation presents a continuous flow of air that prevents freezes in early spring that can be found at lower vineyard elevations. Some bright floral Vidal Blancs and Vignoles can be found here. Though we were very disappointed with WOVW's '05 burnt caramel colored Norton, I was again taken back with what Missouri does with St. Vincent grapes. Both their '05 St. Vincent and St. Vincent Blush (Whispering Oaks Rose) were distinctive and worthy of purchase consideration.

Mountain Grove Cellars was a first for us buying wines and fruits at a university experimental station. Since tastings are not the norm on campus, this means you buy everything in the blind, to include wines and fruits. Unfortunately they had experienced a Norton grape failure and this wine was not available, but we were able to pick up not only their highly recommended Chambourcin, but Paw Paws, Asiatic pears, and straight out of the field Chambourcin grapes to eat. My roommate described the Chambourcin as "hints of raspberry, little green on the front of the tongue, smooth finish, long linger with pepper." You think she liked it?! Haven't opened the Chambourcin port yet, but the available soft custard like Paw Paws were fantastic!

Traver Home Winery was a fun, out of the way, small family vineyard which can be found down a long country road in the woods all to itself. An interesting combination of wines made from local and imported grapes. The owner, Jim Traver, knows his patrons' interests which generally trend to sweeter offerings, but he does dabble in a few drier, as he stated, "real wines". We left with a NY state grape Riesling and a slightly different 4 blend Norton (2 vineyards / 2 separate grape years).

What a difference two years can make in a vineyard visitation. Let me admit that we were far from pleased with the offerings of Meramec Vineyards and Bistro two years ago being served thimble sized tastings in paper sippy cups. We walked out because of the young teenage-like hostess- attitude and being unable to properly taste the wines in the tiny cups. Two years later we were greeted by a knowledgeable host who had a handle on what she was doing and what she was serving. Meramec Vineyards offer several interesting wines, but they freely admit that they only grow Norton, Seyval, Vignoles, Concord, Catawba, and unique to them, the Stark Star grape. Nice Seyval white wines, a flat Chambourcin wine and an interesting contrast tasting of not only their award winning '05 Norton and '06 Norton, but also a tasting difference in INAO-like glasses and the new Riedel Norton wine stemware. Wow, the Riedel Norton goblet made for a change in Norton wine aromas and tastes. Meramec got us with some unanticipated purchases with the use of this stemware. Marketing, isn't it a strange science? I will note that out of the first 16 vineyards encountered on this trip, only Meramec had a tip jar prominently placed on the counter. Though sometimes found in Eastern vineyards, we've seldom encountered such in the mid-west. Hope this is not a trend to be endured in the near future. Over the years we have found special hosts pouring out winery samples that we have tipped with either money, a special bottle of wine we brought along, or even wine books, but we find it a bit crass to display such on serving counters unless the host is performing other duties at the same time; as, serving food or preparing picnic wine ice buckets.

Let me interject thoughts on Westphalia Vineyards wines brought to us as gifts from a blogger who I met online and delivered us requested wines as we traveled through St. James, MO. Westphalia Vineyards are generally not open at their family home vineyards, but do make tastings available from 5:00-8:30pm on Friday/Saturday and Sunday from 11:30am - 6:30pm in the downtown Westphalia Inn. Our new found friend brought us a 2007 Norton Reserve and a Norton-Cabernet Franc "Prodigal Son" wine blend. After tasting only that one WV Norton wine, I immediately called Westphalia to make a case order of wines from them. Does that suggest my enthusiasm for their Norton wine? This was as close to a drink now or hold Norton as I have ever had (Virginia's Castle Gruen Vineyards Norton would be a comparable wine in this category). Aged in Missouri oak for six months, this Norton wine has all the right aromas and taste attributes one would wish for in a Missouri Norton wine. A few exceptional 2006 Norton wines are still available and be aware that there were only 100 cases of the 2007 Norton produced because of extensive regional late frosts. As for the WV "Prodigal Son", let me circulate my brother-in-law's reaction to this wine: The wine presents a dark, reddish-brown color which is expected from a Norton but there is also a bright ruby halo around the outer edge, altogether pleasing. On the nose, the wine bombards you with woods' earth and dried apricots with herbal and citric overtones. In the mouth, there is an immediate burst of flavor, not just with the first but with each sip through at least two glasses (I stopped there). The wine is fruit forward but the fruit is luscious and ripe and complex almost like a late harvest wine. The finish is slow and lingering. This wine would pair happily with home baked bread and ripe Camembert or Stilton following a meal, a bit like a Port. Most of the Nortons I have tasted are such huge wines they overpower food so I am especially interested in how Norton blends with other grapes. "Prodigal Son" is a blend of Norton and Cabernet Franc and it is lovely.? You get the picture and understand our enthusiasm. I did also order Westphalia?s Cabernet Franc. An interesting lighter Cab Franc which is relatively new to WV. Lots of berry on the nose and wild cherry tastes. If you cannot make it to the Westphalia Inn, see if these wines can be shipped to your state.

While visiting Peaceful Bend Vineyard we got a twofer; first an introduction to well made Missouri wines and second having the opportunity to meet owner and vintner, Clyde Gill. Peaceful Bend Vineyard reflects what is going well in Missouri's wine industry, good wines and learning opportunities while visiting a vineyard first hand. This site had been the location of a former successful vineyard which had unfortunately turned hands unsuccessfully over the years and now is being resurrected by Clyde and his wife. Starting anew, original old grape vines are being ripped out now for replacement with select varietals. To make ends meet at this time, two-thirds of all PBV wines are being packaged under other labels, but unlike other vineyards catering to the public's demand of sweet wine, Peaceful Bend Vineyard is successfully producing seven out of their twelve offerings as dry wines. Well described in their wine listings are top food pairings with each wine. After tasting each wine, we could easily envision the culinary suggestions as not only reasonable, but imaginative. Their Courtois (Cayuga with a splash of Chardonnay) was pleasantly dry. We were introduced here to Cornell University's Noiret wine with PBV's '07 Forche Renault. Dry with a suggested pairing of pasta with marinara or portabella mushrooms. Keeping with the label tradition of naming PBV's wines with surrounding rivers, we encountered their Meramec wine, a wonderful barrel aged Chambourcin-Norton blend which was appropriately described as ?aromas of pepper and dried fruit flavors.? I really don?t know if I've ever tasted a better Chambourcin blend. Though we enjoyed and picked up other wines here, the last mention I'll give is to Peaceful Bend Vineyard's homerun, three year aged Norton wine. Again borrowing from their wine list description, "the tannin level is round and smooth " delicious!? Sorry, I can not describe it any better. Drink now or age a few more years (I bet that you'll not have the constitution for putting this Norton away for long). One more note, if you ask Clyde, he'll bring out his smooth Cabernet Sauvignon.

Though Claverach Farm and Vineyard is listed on several web sites and one Missouri state wine publication, the vineyard is not open to the public. Claverach's wines are only available at some local restaurants and liquor stores. I understand that Claverach did not produce a Norton wine this year, but did have a Chambourcin available. We were able to secure a CFV Chambourcin and found it to have no aromas and only initial fruit flavors which quickly dissipated in the mouth. Brochures proclaim Claverach Farm and Vineyard as an agricultural green endeavor, but a little more to the story is needed to justify purchasing the wine if visitors are not allowed at their vineyard setting.

Though we visited several Southwestern Missouri Norton producing vineyards, realize some were producing wines from very young vines, some bringing in grapes from more established state vineyards, and only a few had established vines. All were interesting and developing wines with their own local character, but if Norton wine standouts from this region needed to be selected at this time, that would be Peaceful Bend Vineyards and Westphalia Vineyards. Personally, I'm looking forward to returning to SW Missouri in the years to come to taste what will be available as these vineyards mature.

Southeast Missouri Norton Wines

A few years back we traveled in Southeast Missouri and visited Norton wine producing St. Genevieve, Cave (Strussione), Crown, and River Ridge Vineyards. Luckily, we needed to travel once again through this vicinity to get home. Because we had been so pleased with our first findings here, we decided to try expanding our Norton wine search in this area. It should be noted that on our first trip we were torn between the Norton tastes to be found in this location compared to what we had been earlier exposed to in the Augusta-Defiance, Missouri area. With more in depth vineyard searches, we hoped to come to some area taste conclusions.

First stop heading South near Ste. Genevieve was Chaumette Vineyards who chalked up three 2010 Missouri Governor's Cup gold medals (2009 Spring Rose, Dry Chardonel and Chambourcin). First suggestion, try visiting during the weekday since weekends will have you groping for parking space (unless you want to compete with the long line of limousines and tour buses in the field). It was fun viewing the cakes and set up for a wedding while we ventured into this vineyard. There was a picturesque "chapel of all faiths" located within a short walking distance from the tasting room (another reason for the parking impasse). Maybe the cars were here also for the good smells coming from the restaurant. Back to the winery and trying to taste Chaumette's offerings. After wiggling through the crowd at the tasting bar, we arrived ready to do our thing. Oh, we didn't realize we had to go back to the cash register at the door and get our $5 tasting tokens for a six wine limit (this fee did not include the glass or applied to wine purchases). My wife held my spot where tip jars were placed every few feet. We tried the award winning 2009 Dry Chardonel first which had nice fruity aromas, but an uncomfortable edge to the wine that neither of us appreciated. We enjoyed more the unrewarded 2009 Reserve Chardonel (naturally, it cost $2 more). Mellow fruit tastes which made for a smoother Chardonel to remember. There was yet another "Spontaneous" Chardonel which we both felt was just plain "wild". On to Chaumette's red Governor?s Cup Winner, their 2009 Chambourcin. No strong aromas, but an initial grapey taste which plays out quickly into a subtle, ever so slight peppery winner. Too subtle for me, but my wife who has a better feel for delicate wine tastes made sure that we came away with several of these bottles. I'm sure she has a meal already planned for this purchase. Though the 2007 Norton was clearly listed on the tasting sheet, unsuspecting patrons would not have picked up readily that a non-vintage reserve was being poured. Seemingly the 2007 was in limited supply and only available for club members. Bummer. The Norton we tasted came from fairly mature vines being 15-to-18 years old with a nice hint of cherry, but sour on the back of the tongue with a quick decay. We did venture into Chaumette's semi-dry offerings with their Traminette and Mosaic. The Traminette was a light yellow, drink alone delicate white wine. If you are a Pinot Grigio fan, you'll enjoy what Chaumette has done with this contrasting wine. As for the four grape (of which my wife was sure included Norton) Mosaic, there was nothing "semi" about this wine since it was an ever so sweet punch. Chaumette Vineyards is located in beautiful rolling hills and offers over night stays in their nearby chalets. The vines along the entrance were clearly marked with the grown varietals names which added to the enjoyment of viewing the grape vineyard.

At Charleville Vineyard, be prepared to drive down a fairly long and narrow gravel road before arriving at this comfortable rustic setting which included a two room B&B. Today, wines were being sampled and served outside while inside had those preferring to taste Charleville's brews. Though most vines are now fifteen years old, the tasting room did not open to the public until 2003. It was fun trying two 2008 Chardonels, same grape, same year, but one fermented in stainless and the other being barrel fermented. My wife preferred the stainless seemingly dryer Chauvin Chardonel and I the oaked version with ever so slightly softer fruity aromas. Offered was their Francois, a dry two year barrel aged 60% Chambourcin and 40% Norton red. A little sour for us, but with a bit of aging in the bottle a new taste may arrive in the near future. We did enjoy tasting Charleville's Chambourcin since their grapes were grown in close proximity to the subtle Chambourcin of Chaumette Vineyards. My wife preferred the restrained Chaumette Chambourcin which could be enjoyed on its own, I the bolder Charleville Vineyard Chambourcin which could hold up well with a meal. Another nice comparison tasting was their 2006 and 2008 Norton. We purposely started with the younger 2008 Norton which had typical Norton aromas and light cherry tastes, but obviously needed to be softened with a bit of aging. Onto the 2006 Norton which most appreciably had mellowed, but lacked finesse. Glad we found 2005 Charleville Nortons in a St. Louis Liquor Store for yet another comparison down the road.

St. Francois Winery took a bit of out-of-the-way driving to find in Park Hills, MO, but was situated in a lovely, well manicured setting. This was a small operation with a pleasant winery tasting bar area and outdoor seating for limited size groups. Though there was a $4 per person tasting charge, my wife and I both paid only a total of $2 since we did not wish to keep the tasting glasses. The tart with little fruit flavors Chardonel came from vines planted in 1993. This was one of the first years that this vine was available from Cornell University. Here we learned the interesting story why the Traminette (Gewürztraminer x Riesling) grape could not be patented by Cornell as its hybridizing came via Illinois. This wine had a pleasant sweetness. St. Francois Winery had an exceptional dry treatment for their Chambourcin which I found interesting, but not typical to what I've gown accustom to enjoying. The "Cynthiana" Norton wine seemingly was a non-vintage year production which was enhanced with only a 5% blending of Chambourcin wine. To both of us this selection had a degree of musky aromas with earthy tastes. Also available were a few semi-dry and sweet wines which balanced out the offerings for visitors. If you plan on taking wine notes, be sure to bring your own pen and paper since such will not be offered to you or available upon asking..

Twin Oaks Vineyards is a family operation with parent owners and sons working as vintner and manager. The tasting room sets over a gentle view of several acres of well labeled grape vines and pond. If coming in on a weekend, be prepared to enjoy the setting with a host of other visitors. Crowded, yes, but in an appreciative environment. A nice balance of dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet, sweet and specialty wines are offered. If crowded, you will be limited in trying to ask tasting questions since only two friendly men will be holding down fort for tastings, sales, and managing the vineyard events (in our case live music and people getting ice buckets with wine for sitting on the patio). The dry whites were nice, but to us not their strength. Here, like in surrounding vineyards, we found tastes of near equally blended Chambourcin and Norton grapes. Twin Oaks' Shady Oak blend did not bring out the unique characteristics of each grape. The '07 Norton, from 10 year old vines, seemed typical for Norton wines from Southeast Missouri, showing faint aromas and not as bold taste as can be found in the Augusta-Defiance areas of Missouri just west of St. Louis. Though a bit green in taste, which I don't think will be helped with extended aging, this Norton was delightful tonight with marinated Italian seasoned, over-the-fire Prime T-bone steaks. Be aware that not offered in their tasting is an available 2006 Hutson Reserve Norton wine which we have not opened at this time. Likewise, TOV's Chambourcin was clearly produced as a nice table wine which will have appeal to many, but again not bold or distinctive. Interestingly they not only present a dry Traminette, but have available a sweet Traminette which would have picnic appeal. When it came to TOV's specialty wines they not only had a 'Lite' Hutson Reserve port, but a Royal Ruby which my wife snatched up quickly. It was fun to see what could be again produced with a combination of Norton and Chambourcin grapes making an appealing port. This is a vineyard where we found a nice setting, interesting wines and great hospitality.

Vance Vineyards and Winery is a tasting room and formal restaurant. This is a beautiful, relatively new, facility with tight traffic circle at the front entrance (larger vehicles be forewarned). Nice plantings of Magnolia virginiana (sweetbay magnolia) in front with six unnamed deciduous magnolias at the end of the public parking area. The setting is accentuated with surrounding vineyard plantings and a silo belfry across a large pond which charmingly rings on the quarter hour. Tasting room hours are variable during different seasons, so double check hours if traveling from afar. The 13 acres of Norton, Catawba, Chardonnay, Chardonel, Vignoles, Traminette, Chambourcin and Riesling vines are only five years old, so realize these young wines are not indicative of what maybe available from their seasoned winemaker in the years to come. We tried their Dry Chardonel which was clear with clean straight forward taste. The Barrel Select Chardonel which had been aged with oak for 12 months seemed to be a bit more creamy and exhibiting riper fruit flavors. A nice first attempt. Having no other dry white wines, we shifted over to their dry reds. The VVW's Chambourcin was mild and the tastes did not linger in the mouth. Their 2007 Norton was heavily oaked, but came across (in the hostess? words) as "calm". Strangely, this Norton had a very distinctive clove aroma that did not carry well over into the tasting. Remember, these were first attempts from very young vines. Not bad, but we felt they were produced to "not offend" and therefore these wines were not indicative of the grapes true characters. Maybe this was an intentional "best to be safe than sorry" approach to the first vintage productions. Offered was a Mollie wine (named after the owner's dog) which was a Norton blend with a "secret" white wine that was not to be revealed to the public. Bottom line it was non-descript and sweet. We were glad we made the effort to find Vance Vineyards and Winery, but we were turned off a bit by the free tasting sips that were poured in such small dribbles that it was hard to really tell what we were experiencing.

Isn't it strange how on many trips, literally, the last stop is the one that blows you over? And this was almost not the case while trying to find Durso Hills Vineyards in the teeny town of Marqand, MO. After reading a "For Sale" sign on the vineyard store property with closed doors, we slowly bemoaned the findings with an unhurried drive around the town's square. When 180 degrees opposite the winery store front, a lady darted out, turning on an "Open" sign and placed a Durso Hills Vineyards placard on the sidewalk. Around we turned once more with sheepish grins. As we met Donna and Steve Lening our grins turned to smiles which eventually turned to giggles realizing that this tasting must have been providentially arranged since we found hosts that were a bit late from church who loves Norton wines as much as we do. To understand the misunderstanding, the winery literally had been sold, but was going to move down the street a bit (and being as small as Marquand is, a move down the street a bit can only mean feet, not much more) and the new owners wished to retain the Durso's good name (owners, Ron and Kay Durso). So what you get today (late 2010) will be the last of the original Durso holdings though new vintages will still use the original 10 year old vine plantings and possibly grapes from other sites. Oh, what a line up of wines were generously presented to us in an unhurried manner. Right out of the gates we were amazed with Durso?s dry white 2008 Vivant wine. Vivant is a grape hybridized in Canada, but actually does best in more Southern climates. This was not only dry, but fruity with enough zing to pair well with stronger tasting white meats, as chicken. Our host thought the green apple overtones would be a bit strong for fish. They have an expectant top of the line 2009 Vivant coming up soon, but was not quite ready for bottling when we arrived (dern). Next was a knock down winner in their semi-sweet (but not too sweet) Chardonel which had a dash of Vivant blended in. Maybe one of the best Chardonel wines we?ve tasted in a long time. Again, it's up to you how dry you like your Chardonel wine. Next we were in for a real tower tasting treat, four Norton wines! A 2003 Silver Medal winner, a 2004 Gold Medal winner, a 2005 two year barrel-aged oaked Norton, and another 2006 two year barreled age medal winner. Four completely different tastes. Steve preferred the 2003 oak chipped, young green , but not sour Norton vintage which was not going to change its character with age. The 2004 Estate Bottled Norton was noticeably softer. Then came my wife's favorite, the real mellow two year oaked 2005 Norton, followed by my favorite, the 2006 Norton with an ever so slight tannin tartness and light peppery finish which I feel will mellow out correctly in just a few more years of bottle maturing. We left with ample examples of the 2004 and 2006 Norton wines. As if this were not enough, we were induced into trying their 2008 Durso Red 70% Norton 30% Chambourcin blend. Sweeter and maybe just perfect for Thai food. This will make for a nice gift to friends with sweeter tastes than ours. The days are counting down, so do yourself a favor and skip down to Marquand, MO to find the best of Missouri?s southeast offerings in Durso Hills Winery.

We have now traveled to ten of the eleven Norton vineyards to be found in SE Missouri, missing only the recently found Thousand Oaks Vineyard in Patton, MO where it is advertised. Expect to be treated as friends, not customers. That's as good a reason as any to return to this area in the years to come.

Now back to the original question in the opening paragraph, - what's the difference in wine tastes here as compared to mid-state Missouri. My wife questioned if wines in southeast Missouri were produced with "safer" tastes to make an appeal of getting travelers to try these newer wineries? After experiencing ten Norton vineyards, I would suggest the difference lies in the soils and slight prevailing differences in weather. To my taste, there were earthy tones inherent in all Southeast Missouri Norton wines, except for what was found at Durso Hills Winery. Some wineries camouflaged this better than others with use of oaks or selected blends. Bottom line is that the wineries in SE Missouri are coming in onto their own quickly. The changes in offerings are accelerating with each passing year and soon SE Missouri Norton wines will easily compete with more established Missouri vineyards.

Southeast Missouri Norton Wine Producers:

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Rise & Fall of Kluge Estate Winery

A sad situation in Virginia wine country via Wines & Vines.

Charlottesville, Va. -- There’s an old joke that the best way to make a small fortune in the wine industry is to start with a large one. Sometimes even having a pocket full of dollars doesn’t guarantee that a winery will make a go of it. That certainly proved to be true in the case of the Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard in Charlottesville, Va.

Patricia Kluge and her husband, William J. Moses, started the winery in 1999, intent on establishing a world-class vineyard and making the winery one of the largest and most influential in Virginia. Located south of Charlottesville not far from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Kluge’s estate included 2,000 acres and a 45-room English-style “manor house” known as Albemarle House. Approximately 200 acres were planted in vineyards; the couple built an elaborate tasting room known as the Farm Shop and Kluge hired the internationally-known “Flying Winemaker,” Michel Rolland as the consulting winemaker.

The winery’s first release was the limited edition Kluge Estate 2000 New World Red, priced at a breathtaking $495 per bottle. Only 289 bottles of the wine were produced, each one signed by Kluge and then-winemaker Gabriele Rausse. At that time, most wine in Virginia was sold for less than $50 per bottle, and the release of a first wine from a new winery at such an exalted price created a lot of publicity for Kluge Estate. Later releases of Kluge Estate New World Red were priced considerably lower, the 2001 at $58 per bottle and the 2005 at $25. Wines & Vines’ most recent data show an annual production of 40,000 cases.

In 2007 Kluge and Moses went to Farm Credit of the Virginias and secured a loan for $34.785 million, ostensibly to expand the winery into both national and international markets. In October 2010, Farm Credit foreclosed on this loan and listed the assets of the Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard to be auctioned off, including:

• 907 acres in southern Albemarle County (including 164 acres in vineyard)
• The Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard Farm Shop and tasting room
• Offices and production buildings
• Six employee houses
• A 34,000 square-foot former carriage museum.

Read more at Wines & Vines.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Masculine Side of Beaujolais - a Focus on More Robust Crus

On the heels of participating in the first Beaujolais Taste Live event: Discover Beaujolais - The Feminine Side of Beaujolais; we were invited to participate in the second round: The Masculine Side of Beaujolais - a Focus on More Robust Crus. Once again the event wass sponsored by Inter Beaujolais, the official wine-trade organization of the region. And once again, we received four wines - this time representing high quality cru wines from different vintages that are available in the United States. These were:
  • Christophe Pacalet, Cote de Brouilly, 2006;
  • Pascal Granger, Juliénas, 2005
  • Loluis-Claude Desvignes, Morgon, 2007
  • Domaine Diochon, Moulin à Vent, 2008
And like the first event, I care least for the first wine - although not nearly as bad as before. The Christophe Pacalet, Cote de Brouilly, 2006 retails for $17 and is basically an easy sipping fruity wine. Yea, there's plenty of fruit, but that was it. No acidity, no tannins, no structure, no finesse, just fruit. rose substantially moving to the Pascal Granger, Juliénas, 2005, the most expensive wine of the night at $24. This wine exhibited true Old World characteristics with some mineral content from the nose to the tail. Plus some cherry flavor and texture on the palette. This was an excellent wine. The Loluis-Claude Desvignes, Morgon, 2007 ($20) followed with more fruit but balanced with subtle amounts of acidity, earthiness, and some spiciness - all the character lacking in the Christophe Pacalet, Cote de Brouilly. The tasting sheet was right on with the white pepper notes. Another excellent wine. Yet, the masterpeice of the evening was the final wine, the Domaine Diochon, Moulin à Vent, 2008 ($21). This wine seemed to include the best characteristics of the previous two - dark fruit flavors and earthy minerals. This wine exudes strong aromatics, contains structure, acidity, tannins - all the usual wine buzz words. This is one wine we will keep in our cellar.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wine Enthusiast Can Help Fight Cancer Simply by Loving Wine!

Take some time and visit CharityBuzz. One of their campaigns benefits The Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, an organization funding innovative research to bring faster cures to patients. Bidding is available on all of the below items through Thursday, November 18.

Fully Stocked Viking Wine Refrigerator with 54 Bottles of Collectible Wines from Around the World: Wines included range from a Rhone Valley Château Grillet 2005 Château Grillet (Condrieu) to a Lebanese Bekaa Valley Chateau Musar 1995.

A Private Wine Dinner for Eight People at Italian Wine Merchants:
Eight guests will enjoy an evening of wine and dinner, service from a sommelier, Italian Wine Merchants propriety producer and tasting notes, eight signed copies of Passion on the Vine and more.

Wine Tasting for 25 at Italian Wine Merchants: Guests will be led by an Italian Wine Merchant sommelier through a wine tasting in the Italian Wine Merchant Studio del Gusto. This package includes rental of event space, wine and food for 25 guests, dedicated sommeliers and chefs, and Italian Wine Merchant's proprietary producer and tasting notes.

Stellar Wine Tasting for 20 at Your Home - Wines from Palm Bay International, Catered by Restaurant Associates, Decor from by ROBIN: This memorable evening all takes place in the comfort of your home, while the food, wine and décor work is done by someone else! Wines are selected and presented by Palm Bay International, food is catered by Restaurant Associates (caterers at Caregie Hall and Lincoln Center) and the décor design will be installed by Robin Lathrop (event planner for the Samuel Waxman gala).

If you'd like more information about the auction or the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, please contact me at

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fabbioli Cellars, Leesburg Virginia

If you recall a late spring frost hit the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast in early May. Most vineyards were unaffected; yet others lost a majority of fruit. One of these was Loudoun County's Fabbioli Cellars. For most of the past decade Doug Fabbioli has been the unknown face behind the rise in Loudoun County as a wine region. After education and a career in California, he moved to the Commonwealth and began winemaker first at Tarara Vineyard & Winery and later at Windham Winery - now Doukenie Winery. Eventually he started his own enterprise, yet was the consultant to many successive startups in the region, in particular North Gate Vineyards and Notaviva Vineyards. Over the years we've tasted most of Doug's portfolio - wither at festivals or at some of these newer wineries. Yet, we had never visited the tasting room - and this past Saturday we had the opportunity to see how the frost had affected operations.

And with the size of the crowd in the tasting room, 30 minutes before closing, no noticeable affect. Each tasting area was filled to capacity with newcomers constantly arriving during our stay. Closing hours must only be a suggestion. We decided to grab a bottle and head to the outside firepits and the Tre Sorélle was on my mind - their excellent Bordeaux style blend. However, when viewing the tasting sheet I noticed a single varietal Tannat and since we been touting this grape as suitable to Virginia, we had to splurge for a bottle. Splurge in that the wine is close to $30; that's specially tough after a couple trips to Trader Joe's for Halloween. But its a Virginia Tannat. While talking to new friends outside we found the wine to be young but full of potential. After a little aging this will be a big wine, plenty of tannins but nice acidity and red berry flavors. (I opened the bottle for a second pour a couple days later and the same opinion - young with potential). Let the tannins subside and this is a nice wine.

As for the frost, we didn't have a chance to discuss it. There are still a couple years of red wine aging in the cellar; as for white wines, some favors may be called in soon. We'll head back for another Tannat and actually conduct real research - and not waste the time away socializing.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wild Wolf Brewing Company

On our last trip to Nelson County, we "discovered" the Wild Wolf Brewing Company, a hone brew shop that was soon to be crafting and selling their own brand of beer. Well, I heard this week that that time has finally come. The brewery has five beers available on tap: Smoked Scottish Ale, 'Blond Hunny' Ale, 'Alpha Ale' - an American Pale Ale, Honey Pear Saison and an American Lager. We'll be heading down to Charlottesville very soon; bring you growler.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Two Wines for Thanksgiving - Italian Soave

Recently we received an offer to sample two Italian wines, and, why not. Like most European wines, these are named for the region, not the grape, and the two come from the Soave community located in the Veneto region in the Province of Verona. Both wines are made from the Garganega grape, a late ripening fruit that is widely planted in Veneto. Specific vineyards are classified as DOC or Classico DOC and can even be crafted into a sparkling spumante.

The first wine was the 2008 Roccolo Grassi Soave Vignetta "La Broia" which we instantly took a bond to. We learned that at times Chardonnay is sometimes blended with Garganega - but this wine immediately reminded us of a chardonnay. It had plenty of apple and pear flavors, nice acidity - with a more than expected mid-palette. Doug Frost had first introduced us to wines from this region as very food friendly so this wine should work for the coming Turkey dinners. And priced around $15 - that's a good deal.

The Fattori Danieli Soave is composed of 100% Garganega from vines averaging 25 years old. True to its late ripening reputation, the grapes were harvested in mid October, processed and fermented in steal tanks. The result is a light bodied wine; citrus flavors, with plenty of acidity. This acidity provides a refreshing finish and with the late ripening grape is more like a new world wine than an old world. Time for a trip to Italy.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Discover Virginia Wine (The Monticello Wine Trail)

Monday October 25th, we were privileged to participate in the inaugural Virginia wide Taste Live twitter event, Discover Virginia Wine (The Monticello Wine Trail) tasting. Our good friend Dezel from @myvinespot and My Vine Spot organized and moderated the event. He invited me to participate at his house along with several other wine bloggers, all who have a better palate for wine then me: @grapevine4wine from The GrapeVine; @Alleigh from A Glass After Work; @SuzieLin from Runningwinegirl's Blog; and @elizabethdehoff from Crushworthy Wines. I learned from just listening to their commentary. Participants tweeted from all corners of the county, from the great northwest, to New York, south to Florida and regions in between. In Charlottesville, CBS 19 also broadcast the event after visiting some of the participating wines. And finally, throughout the evening, the great Virginian wine grape - Viognier - trending on twitter. Which is ironic in that at our table, the Keswick Vineyards 2009 Viognier was the least popular wine.

The tasting involved five wines from central Virginia. We started with theKluge Estate 2007 SP Rose, which I thought slightly off-dry; but my tasting partners corrected as completely dry. The sparkling wine is made in the traditional méthode Champenoise using estate grown 95% Chardonnay (95%) and Pinot Noir (5%) and aged on the lees for 21-24 months. The result is a complex wine, alot going on - plenty of sour cherry; I may have mistook fruit flavors for sweetness, but in general this is a nice sparkler. The only issue is the price; is it worth $25-$30; we shall see.

The aforementioned
Keswick Vineyards 2009 Viognier followed and received mixed reviews. Some enjoyed it; others didn't - the presence of oak probably contributed to that outcome. I, along with Dezel, were the contrarians and enjoyed the wine, although I don't think its as good as many offered in the state. Keswick's winemaker, Stephen Barnard, crafts many wonderful wines, this just didn't seem to be his best.

Since our visit to
Jefferson Vineyards over two years ago, we have been extremely impressed with Andy Reagan's wines. Normally we prefer his reds, but tonight we sampled his 2009 Reserve Chardonnay. The grapes were sourced from a few different vineyards, 30% were estate grown - harvested from 25 year old vines. The wine starts with a toasty nose, followed by a slight oak flavor ending with nice acidity in the tail. Not only did we think it was a fine wine, but it recently received a Gold Medal at the 2010 LodiWine Awards. Nicely done.

The next wine was a real surprise; the Afton Mountains 2009 Gewürztraminer. We didn't taste this wine on our recent visit to the winery, but it was a hit during the evening - surprising in that an off dry wine was praised by several wine "experts". Gewürztraminer can be translated into "Spice Traminer"or "Perfumed Traminer" so its not a surprise that this wine had a little spice flavor. About a third of the wine was aged in barrels that previously housed their eiswine style dessert wine. I think the acidity makes this wine - it tones down the sweetness and allows the fruit flavors to dominate.

We then moved on to reds, starting with Kirsty Harmon's
Blenheim Vineyards 2009 Seven Oaks Merlot. Since becoming winemaker a couple years back - she is finally able to release her own vintages. Now, the first thing to know about this wine is don't fear the screw-cap as Blenheim is one of two Virginia wineries to use that enclosure device on all wines - red and whites. The second is this grapes are 100% Merlot harvested from the Seven Oaks Vineyard near Crozet. After fermentation, 50% of the wine is aged in stainless steel, the other half for 9 months in new French barrels. This is another nicely done wine; complex, but fruit forward and a smooth tail. Maybe Merlot is a Virginia grape.

The final wine for the evening was the Mountfair Vineyards 2008 Wooloomooloo. We had just visited Mountfair and were well aware of this wine. It is primarily Petit Verdot (60%), with Merlot (30%) and Cabernet Franc (10%) added to make this an interesting Bordeaux style wine. The wine is then aged 2 years before bottled and released. And "Wooloomooloo" - that's evidently a spirit that roams the Blue Ridge Mountains. Like any wine composed of Petit Verdot; this wine has some tannins - but the other grapes must contribute enough structure and fruit to tone these down. Regular readers know how much we prefer blends so its no surprise that this is one of my favorite wines tasted this year from Virginia.

Thanks Dezel, the participating wineries, and Taste Live for an entertaining evening.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Discover Virginia Wine (The Monticello Wine Trail)

I've checked in at Dezel's place getting ready for the Discover Virginia Wine (The Monticello Wine Trail) Taste Live tasting. The handles: these handles on twitter: #WW #ttl #vawine @keswickvineyard @benatmountfair @MfVvinotweets @th_jefferson @KlugeEstate @BlenheimWines @AftonMountain @vawine. The wines:

a) Kluge Estate 2007 SP Rosé

b) Afton Mountains 2009 Gewürztraminer

c) Keswick Vineyards 2009 Viognier

d) Jefferson Vineyards 2009 Reserve Chardonnay

e) Blenheim Vineyards 2009 Merlot

f) Mountfair Vineyards 2008 Wooloomooloo

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Taste Live: Discover Beaujolais

This past Wednesday we were invited to participate in a twitter Taste Live event "Discover Beaujolais". The event is sponsored by Inter Beaujolais, the official wine-trade organization of the region, working to promote Beaujolais wines and raise awareness of the region. Beaujolais is a French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) and the wine is mostly Gamay grape, a low tannic, thin skinned grape. According to Wikipedia the region of was first cultivated by the Romans who planted the areas along its trading route up the Saône valley. "The most notable Roman vineyard was Brulliacus located on the hillside of Mont Brouilly. The Romans also planted vineyards in the area Morgon. From the 7th century through the Middle Ages, most of the viticulture and winemaking was done by the Benedictine monks. In the 10th century, the region got its name from the town of Beaujeu, Rhône and was ruled by the Lords of Beaujeu till the 15th century when it was ceded to the Duchy of Burgundy. The wines from Beaujolais were mostly confined to the markets along the Saône and Rhône rivers, particularly in the town of Lyon. The expansion of the French railroad system in the 19th century opened up the lucrative Paris market. The first mention of Beaujolais wines in English followed soon after when Cyrus Redding described the wines of Moulin-à-Vent and Saint-Amour as being low priced and best consumed young".

During the Taste Live event, we tasted four wines selected to represent the region and which were widely available in this country. Specifically they were the Domaine Cheysson, Chiroubles; Henry Fessy, Brouilly; Charly Thevenet “Grain et Granit”, Règniè; and the Alain Coudert, Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie, 2009.

Domaine Cheysson, Chiroubles, 2009
This wine, like all the others, is 100% Gamay and is made from grapes planted in the highest cru in the appellation. Chiroubles is home to approximately 80 winemakers and because of its attitude, cooler temperatures allow for a later harvest. I'm not sure if elevation had an effect, but the wine had a repugnant black tea aroma - that was tough to get past. Once I did, I found a tart, raspberry flavored wine; not bad - but not a good start to the evening.

Henry Fessy, Brouilly, 2009
Brouilly is the southern most region of the appellation and is comprised of six villages and four terroirs. Wine from Brouilly is the most popular in the United States, one reason is that the cru represents 20% of the Beaujolais region. The Henry Fessy had a slightly similar Back Tea aroma, but more red fruit which didn't allow the tea to overwhelm the nose. The flavor is silky smooth; some texture, with black fruit and some chocolate. Plus a longer smoother finish. This texture is mostly due to the manganese soils, which yield more robust wines. Since the first two wines retail for a similar price ($15-$18), it was a no brainer for me which I would select.

Charly Thevenet “Grain et Granit”, Règniè, 2009
This wine was the most expensive, $35, of the group; partly from its pedigree - crafted by Charly Thevenot, the son of Jean-Paul Thevenot. The wine is also crafted using Biodynamic methods and aged 12 months in 4 year old Burgundy barrels. Could be why locals consider this a "pinotfied" wine - even though Gamay is a relative to Pinot Noir. "Pinotfied" or not, this is a fine wine; red fruit flavors, and very smooth - not a great value - but a good wine.

Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie, 2009
This region is named after a Roman legionary, not any flower; although the wines are more elegant than anything resembling a Roman soldier. The cru "backs up on to the a chain of peaks including Avenas, Durbize and Les Labourons". The Clos de la Roilette retails for $20 and after the tasting, this is a decent value. The wine is smokey, from the nose to the tail - but only subtly so. Fruit flavors eventually dominant but this is still the most earthy of the wines - dry and "minerally". Drinking the remainder right now, in fact, it remains nice even after three days opened on the shelf.

We felt very privileged participating in this event. We seemed to have ignored Beaujolais wines for awhile, but no longer. We've always liked Gamay, and the search will start to explore Beaujolais Gamay as well as more U.S. made Gamay. of the four, I think the Brouilly may have been my favorite with the Fleurie and Règniè close behind. Make sure to visit Inter Beaujolais to Discover Beaujolais.