Monday, December 31, 2012

Ron Añejo Pampero Aniversario Reserva Exclusiva - What's in a name and satchel?

While browsing a liquor store in New York, I came across a fancy leather satchel containing an interesting Venezuelan rum - Ron Añejo Pampero Aniversario Reserva Exclusiva ($30). Traditionally the term "ron añejo" refers to aged rum and "pampero" to a vicious squall. Thus, in 1938, Alejandro Hernández started Industrias Pampero, C.A. and produced the "first rum to be accredited ‘Añejo’, by the Venezuelan government". Twenty-five years later to celebrate their anniversary (that's 1963 for those like me slow in arithmetic) the inaugural Ron Añejo Pampero Aniversario Reserva Exclusiva was released.  Now owned by the Diageo empire, the distillery continues to release this premium rum, which is referred to in Venezuela as "Caballito Frenao" ("Restrained Horse") because of the logo on the satchel.

The rum pours a dark caramel with a nose of toasted vanilla and sweet honey nuts. Very appealing. On the palette there's a wave of chocolate being ridden by vanilla notes plus a hint of leather when it crashes into a warm molasses burning sensation. Who needs the creme brulee when this rum will suffice for dessert. Adding a few drops of water smooths out the palette by dampening the alcohol to completely eliminate the burn, allowing the rum's flavor profile to shine. This is very nice sipping rum, flavorful and balanced - worthy of the $30 price. Cheers.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas in New York City - Brooklyn Brewery on the Itinerary

As tradition has it, my family once again asked for a trip to New York City to partake in the Christmas lights and festivities throughout Manhattan and the other boroughs. This year I agreed, with one stipulation; we allocate enough time to visit Brooklyn Brewery - located in the now trendy Williamsburg industrial area. And this visit was easily handled with the Prospect Park Zoo on the itinerary.

I've been a big fan of the brewery ever since my first Double Chocolate Stout many years ago - perhaps close to their 1988 opening. Since that time the brewery has expanded its portfolio from their famous Lager to many different styles. And the brewery itself has expanded with demand to double its capacity and eventually triple it next year.  And anyone who follows beer culture knows the influence of Brewmaster Garrett Oliver as he is  editor-in-chief of The Oxford Companion to Beer and author of The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food. One day we need to feature him on MyJoogTV.

We arrived at the brewery to find a swelling crowd even though the tasting room had just opened. As it was Sunday we were welcomed to SmorgasBrewery; where local "underground" chefs provide gourmet food to pair with your beer. And what a selection of beer - maybe a dozen options - and not just the perennials augmented with some seasonals. I noticed only two - the Brooklyn Brown Ale and Brooklyn Lager, surrounded by the single hop Sorachi Ace, Radius, Winter Ale, Brooklyn Monster Ale, and There Will Be Black - among others. After sampling a few, my favorites were the Brewmaster's Reserve There Will Be Black and Sorachi Ace. The former is a Black IPA that satisfies my craving for chocolate transitioning into a bitter finish. The latter is a Single-hop Farmhouse Saison where the rare “Sorachi Ace” hops (developed in Japan by crossing the British “Brewer’s Gold” with the Czech “Saaz”) is sourced from a single hop farm in Washington state. The beer is cloudy but light; lemony but very clean - with a refreshing, almost acidic finish. Love the style and ingenuity using a single hop variety.

With the family keeping a tight schedule there wasn't time for a tour or more tasting, but with the renaissance in Williamsburg, I see a destination trip in my future. Beer and live music seem to pair well in Brooklyn. Cheers.

Note: Brooklyn Brewery is open to the public Monday-Thursday from 5-7pm for reservation-only Small Batch tours, Friday evening for Happy Hour, and Saturdays and Sundays for Tours and Tastings.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wines from the Wine Chateau: Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Chardonnay 2009

Earlier this month we received a few wines from the Wine Chateau, and the Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Chardonnay 2009 (onsale now for $13.97) was the first we opened. The wine comes from the
Casablanca Valley in Chile, specifically the Lapostolle Atalayas Vineyard. The winery is now excluselively owned by the Marnier-Lapostolle family - of Grand Marnier liqueur fame - as well as the Château de Sancerre in the Loire Valley. The expanded into Chile by purchasing a vineyard populated by ungrafted old vines that were protected from Phylloxera by the Andes Mountains. Or so they say.

The vineyard expanded over time and now includes Chardonnay which is responsible for 100% of the Cuvee Alexandre. The wine starts with pear and which leads to a tasty vanilla and apple flavor ending with a creamy finish. The oak enhances the fruit without over shadowing it and does not contribute the over-extracted buttery character that I truly distaste. This is a very nice wine, and with this sale price - an extreme bargain. Cheers.

Friday, December 21, 2012

#TGTaste Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut & Brut Rose

This week I participated in the monthly ThirstyGirl Twitter chat this time featuring sparkling wines from Domaine Ste. Michelle - the bubbly wing of Chateau Ste. Michelle.  Specifically we were sent sample of the the Brut and Brut Rose- both retail around $12.  Expectations were high, since that day I learned that the The Wine Trials had named Chateau Ste. Michelle their 2011 Winery of the year and that they found that 70% of blind tasters preferred Domaine Ste. Michelle to Dom Pérignon and 85% preferred Domaine Ste. Michelle to Veuve Clicquot. Pretty impressive.

Both wines were made from grapes harvested from Washington's Columbia Valley, in which the winery is quick to relate, "whose climate is similar to that of the Champagne region in France".  The grapes were then fermented and converted to sparkling wine using the traditional Methode champenoise process.

The Brut is a blend of 88% Chardonnay and 12% Pinot Noir and to me, exuded green apples from the nose to the finish. There is a slight sweetness to the body (1.19% RS) that dissipates at the refreshing  and effervescence tail. Just a pleasure to drink - lookout Christmas morning. The Brut Rose is 100% Pinot Noir, with the same sweetness, but more of a fruit flavor - strawberry replaces the apple - with a slight creaminess texture. The finish, just as refreshing as the Brut.

It's easy to understand why these wines are so popular - great RPQ at $12 and a quality well past this price range. Ready to move on to their Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs. Cheers all and Merry Christmas and a safe new year.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Franconia, Tranquility, & Otium - Together in Purcellville

 We love our Blaufränkisch, that's no secret; but what may be is the German styled wines made at Otium Cellars located at Goose Creek Farms and Winery in Purcellville, Virginia.  Founded by Gerhard Bauer in 2007, the winery celebrates Bauer's Franconian heritage with a portfolio consisting of Blaufränkisch, Dornfelder and Grau Burgunder (a German clone of Pinot Gris).  In fact, we first sampled these three wines at 8 Chains North Winery which hosted Bauer's wines before the new tasting facility opened in April. 2012. Note: 8CN's Ben Renshaw oversees the famed Tranquillity Vineyard (located adjacent to the Otium Cellars estate) which is a very nice parcel of land with the grapes sourced to 8 Chains North and Tarara Vineyard & Winery among others.

Last week, after a stop at Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, I extended my Purcellville tour by visiting this new tasting facility.   The scenery is quite tranquil indeed with dormant vines, horses, and silos in the panorama. In fact Otium is Latin for leisure, ease, peace, tranquility.  The tasting room was empty, except for a fellow wine cask bar fan, so there was ample opportunity to interface directly with the tasting sheet. Except for their Cabernet Sauvignon (Tranquility), all the grapes were harvested directly from their estate.

I started off with three whites, two Pinot Gris and the other a Chardonnay, a slightly buttery-oaky wine with caramel at the tail. The Pinot Gris were made in two styles; the first similar to the Chardonnay, slightly buttery, whereas the second was made more into a Reisling style - off-dry with bright flavors and an balanced acidic finish. My personal favorite of the three.

Obviously my interest peaked when we moved to reds and as a bonus I enjoyed a vertical tasting of their Cabernet Sauvignon and their Blaufränkisch. You don't get the opportunity to sample successive years but Otium have both the 2010 and 2011 available for both these wines. For both wines, 2010 produced bigger, bolder styles and this was the Blaufränkisch that I shared with fellow bloggers at the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville. We compared that wine with an Austrian provided by the Wines of Austria. The general consensus was not bad - definitely more New World than Old.After re-visiting, I think I prefer the 2011 version more; its lighter with a more spicy profile and more characteristic of the old world style. Yet, for the Cab, the bolder 2010 hit home. The winery also produces a Pinot Noir and Dornfelder - admirable efforts - but currently drinking too acidic for my tastes. These need to lie low for awhile.

 However, cheers to their Blaufränkisch and look forward to a comparative tasting sometime soon.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mulled Wine - No Need for a Recipe

Saint Wenceslaus - Morgan Creek Vineyard
Tis the season for all the major food websites to break out their mulled wine recipes. Never heard of that style? Well, according to wiki:
Mulled wine (otherwise known as Glögg or Gløgg) is a beverage that ranges from alcoholic to non-alcoholic. It is usually made with red wine along with various spices and raisins, served hot or warm. It is a traditional drink during winter, especially around Christmas and Halloween.

Being lazy, out household takes the easy route and purchases mulled wine from local wineries - then fortify it with our favorite rum. Here's a few we have enjoyed in the past and some we are seeking this year (including the winery's tasting notes):

Burnley Vineyards (VA) - Spicy Rivanna ($12)
This is our Rivanna Red to which we have added cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, allspice, anise, orange peel, lemon peel and residual sugar. This wine is best served either well chilled or steaming hot like tea.

Brotherhood America's Oldest Winery (NY) - Holiday Spice Wine ($8)
The tradition of mulled wine in our country goes back to before the Revolution, when it was quaffed piping hot in taverns, inns and homes. Brotherhood’s Holiday Wine carries on this colonial tradition. Its moderate sweetness is balanced with tartness.

Rose Bank Winery (PA) - Mulled Apple
Like apple pie in a bottle. This wine starts with freshly pressed apple juice. After fermentation, it is sweetened to about 4% sugar (medium-sweet) and lightly flavored with our own custom blend of spices. Serve warm or cold.

Cream Ridge Winery (NJ) - Holiday Spice ($10)
This wine is made using a Niagra grape. We add spices so its great served cold straight from the bottle. However, serve it warm with our own Organic Mulling Spices and some fresh fruit and you can turn this into a warm Winter Sangria!

Tomasello Winery (NJ) - Mulled Spice Wine ($10)
Tomasello Mulled Spice Wine is made from a moderately sweet Native American grape, flavored with traditional mulling spices. Often served warm with a slice of orange and a cinnamon stick, this wine has been called the perfect "après-ski" wine. A popular style of wine in the outdoor street markets and ski slopes of Europe, our Mulled Spice Wine is great for the holidays or any other cold winter night when you’d rather stay in…

Chatham Hill Winery (NC) - Christmas Red ($15)
This semi-sweet red wine will warm you up when the weather turns chilly. Wonderful at room temperature, or chilled, or warm MULLED.

Duplin Winery (NC) - Christmas Wine ($10)
Start a new Christmas tradition with Duplin Winery's festive wine that is sure to warm the soul. Christmas Wine is a wonderful blend of North Carolina Muscadines and brings in the taste of a true Southern Christmas.

Wish List:

Morgan Creek Vineyard (MN) - Celebration Spice ($16)
Our signature Holiday wine! A favorite for fifteen years at Morgan Creek Vineyards and sells out within two weeks of its release every year. A lucious sweet red, rich body, touch of oak, and barrel aged. This Minnesota, French Hybbrid blend is a perfect wine to serve with a variety of main entrees; sweet beef, fruited pork, savory poultry, wild game are all wonderfully paired with this Winter Cycle libation. Even Good King Wenceslaus would serve this at his feast with Page or Monarch. . .

Ferrante Winery (OH) - Celebration Spice ($8)
A sweet festive grape wine spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. A mulled wine that can be enjoyed with a cinnamon stick or citrus fruits.

Easley Winery (IN) - Warm Mulled Wine
From the traditional German recipe comes Warm Mulled Wine, bursting with cinnamon, apple, honey, lemon juice, and spices from afar. Warm a glass and pair with creme brulee or other sweets.

Black Mesa Winery (NM) - Santa Fest ($15)
A mulled spice wine served chilled in the summer or hot in the winter. It's spices of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg will delight your pallet. Warm it for the holidays and the whole house will smell like Christmas.

Door Peninsula Winery (WI) - Mulled Christmas A softer, semi-sweet cherry wine blended with cinnamon, nutmeg and warm ground spices sure to foster fond family memories and cozy fires. Best served warm.

Boyden Valley Winery (VT) - Glogg Glogg is a mulled spice wine that is great served warm in a mug with dried fruits and almonds, or, even better, with any kind of pumpkin desserts or pecan pie. The Recipe came to us from one of those great characters who always seem to just emerge out of the Vermont landscape, our Swedish friend Taug.  Knowing something about cold winters, Taug shared this cozy secret with us, and we are sharing it with you. Glogg is a wonderful treat on holidays, or on any chilly night.

Cascade Mountain Winery (NY) - Heavenly Daze Our kitchen came up with this spice wine and we think it's a winner. Cinnamon, Lemon Zest, and Lemon Juice combined with red wine produce this rich spice wine - great as an after-dinner treat or mulled wine.

Cartecay Vineyards (GA) -  Chimney Noel
A seasonal nouveau Wine only available during the Holidays.  A light drinking sweet, wine with flavors of Berries and Christmas.


Tasted the Chaddsford Winery (PA) - Spiced Apple Wine ($13) last night. Not bad - will repeat by fortifying with rum. (Apple, cinnamon & spice, just like Ma's apple pie. Heat it up in winter for a soothing hot mulled wine.)

Also, ChiefWino recommended the Chateau Grand Traverse (MI) - Spiced Cherry Wine ($9).  For those on the East Coast this wine is available at Little Washington Winery (VA) through their Dirt Road program. (This wine is a holiday tradition. Made from our Traverse City Cherry Wine, we add natural flavors of cinnamon, clove, orange, and lemon peel. The resulting wine is a classic "Mulled" or "Gluhwein." Enjoy as a warm-up beverage or with soda water or ginger ale for a lighter taste.)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Historic Cocktails - Hemingway's Josie Russell

Hard Cider and Rum. Who knew that would be a viable mixture in a cocktail? Evidently Ernest Hemingway did - that's who. Garden & Gun Magazine just published a recipe named for close pal Joe “Josie Grunts” Russell - founder of the famed Sloppy Joe’s - that Hemingway scribbled down while fishing on Russell's boat in June 1933. You think they cared about Prohibition?  The original cocktail most likely used rum from Cuba, whereas I substituted Ron Abuelo Anejo - a fine brand from Panama - made in the "aguardiente" style (pure cane juice). For the for cider I used Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery Doc's Draft Hard Cider, the 22 oz bottle fits neatly into the recipe. The result: the cider dominates from nose to tail; with the rum adding a little kick at the finish - but the tartness and acidity from the cider and lime smooth out the added alcohol.I know what I'm drinking all next summer. Cheers.

For a pitcher:

4 ½ oz. rum
12 oz. hard apple cider
2 oz. fresh lime juice
2 tsp. sugar

Fill a pitcher with ice, add all ingredients, and stir well. Serve on ice in Collins or highball glasses, garnished with lime wedge or peel. Serves two to three.
Update:  A good friend notified me about a new book focusing on Hemingway's cocktail experience. Looking forward to reading To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Due South Brewing Company Brings Local Beer to the Palm Beaches

In all the years I've lived or visited south Florida, I have always been disappointed in the deficiency of local beer options in the West Palm Beach area. That is, until now. Earlier this year, Due South Brewing Company,opened their 15 BBL brewhouse in Boynton Beach - just off Route 95 and very close to our Florida destination. On Black Friday we visited during the brewery's all day Black Friday Party and tasted though most of their brews.

And this is a wide ranging portfolio of low alcohol beers favored by owner and brewer Mike Halker. Starting with the Florida Blonde, which is an ale - and not the lager we presumed. It resembles an amber ale in color and flavor - but exudes much less hops at the tale. Next was the Caramel Cream Ale, aged in used apply brandy barrels from Laird & Company in North Garden Virginia. Nice. The beer is brewed with whole vanilla beans which gives it its creaminess as well as gentle sweetness. The seasonal Isle of MaGourdo is a "naturally conditioned pumpkin ale"  that's right on - not overbearing - just subtle bits of pumpkin and spice. Just what we want for Thanksgiving. The specialty Southbound Brown was our first beer with a little more hops - 36 IBU.  This is just enough malt to balance the roasted malt flavor. Another "roasty" flavor was the firkin delivered Roasted Cocoa Stout brewed with cocoa nibs - one of my favorites. My other favorites were the Category 3 IPA (Cat 3) – Florida Style IPA and the Cafe Ole Espresso Porter. The Cat 3 is a clean refreshing India Pale Ale with a little citrus lemongrass and well balanced between the 64 IPU and malt. Next time I will try the even stronger Cat 4 at 85 IPU. And the porter, wow - whereas I enjoy my espresso in the morning, I normally do not care for espresso or coffee flavored beverages. Except for this one - perhaps a replacement for the morning ritual. The espresso flavors blends tightly into the chocolate flavors delivering a most pleasant tasting experience. In other words, this is one awesome ale. Nice job Due South - can't wait to return. Cheers to local beer.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Maryland Wine & Charm City Land 5th Annual DrinkLocalWine Conference

This week DrinkLocalWine officially announced the site for the 5th annual DrinkLocalWine Conference and the winner is a historic wine region as well as a rising player in the local wine industry: Maryland. I say historic, because Philip and Jocelyn Wagner, founder of Boordy Vineyards, were instrumental in the resuscitation of the East Coast wine industry by propagating French-American hybrids in their Maryland nursery.  To learn more about this story we recommend Maryland Wine: A Full-Bodied History written by Regina McCarthy, former marketing coordinator for the Maryland Wineries Association.  I mention rising wine industry because the Free State is currently home to over 50 wineries and cideries and about a dozen more in the pipeline. The state is also diverse in its topography from vineyards located in the sandy southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore to the rolling hills of the Catoctin & Linganore AVAs near Frederick, and the mountainous Cumberland Valley AVA to the extreme West. The conference takes place April 12-14th 2013 in Baltimore and count us in - get ready for some crab cakes and wine.  Here is the official press release. And below that are three videos we filmed at Maryland wineries. Cheers.
Nov. 19, 2012 - DrinkLocalWine will hold its fifth annual conference April 12-14, 2013 in Baltimore, focusing on Maryland wine. The state's industry is one of the fastest growing in the country, nearly doubling in size over the past two years with more than 60 wineries.

The state's four growing regions produce a variety of wines, including the classic European varietals, but also some that are distinctly New World in style. The Maryland Winery Association is the conference's primary sponsor.

“We're growing a world of wine styles and varieties throughout Maryland, and we're excited to share them through DrinkLocalWine,” says Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wine Association.

DLW 2013 will include a Maryland Twitter Taste-off featuring two dozen of the state’s best wineries, plus three seminars featuring some of the top names in Maryland and regional wine.

Maryland's modern wine history dates to the 1970s, but grapes have been planted in the area since the 17th century. Most of the state's wineries are in the Piedmont Plateau in central Maryland, but grapes also thrive in the Eastern Shore, Southern Plain, and Western Mountains.

DLW 2013 follows the success of the first four conferences - the inaugural conference in Dallas featuring Texas wine in 2009, in Loudoun County featuring Virginia wine in 2010, in St. Louis featuring Missouri wine in 2011, and in Denver featuring Colorado wine in 2012. DLW also holds an annual Regional Wine Week in the fall, in which more than 40 wine bloggers, writers and columnists from the U.S. and Canada write about their favorite regional wines, ranging from Ontario to New York to Florida to Texas to Colorado.'s goal is to spotlight wine made in the 47 states and Canada that aren't California, Washington, and Oregon. It's the brainchild of Washington Post wine columnist Dave McIntyre and wine blogger Jeff Siegel, The Wine Curmudgeon.

For information, call (469) 554-9463 or email
Winemaker Series: Old Westminster Winery

Dangermuffin at Sugarloaf Mountain Winery

Uncle Dave Huber @ Black Ankle Vineyards

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Skinny Vine - Not Worth the Calories

This week we were sent three samples of the new Skinny Vine wine brand for the monthly #TGTaste ThirstyGirl twitter tasting: Slim Chardonnay, Thin Zin and Mini Moscato. These wines are marketed as tasty, low calorie, low alcohol, and low cost ($11) wines for the youth wine market and competing against the highly successful FlipFlop wines. Many of my companions in the tasting loved the wines; but from what I sampled - don't waste your calories. Starting with the Chardonnay, it lacked any of the characteristic flavors associated with the grape, had a synthetic taste of vanilla and oak (staves or chips perhaps), and finished with zero acidity. My first impression was a flat wine cooler.

Matters worsened rapidly when moving to the Thin Zin which is basically a rose colored white zinfandel. The wine started with a respectable strawberry nose which quickly evaporated when the sweet, syrupy "Kool-aid" entered the mouth. Our first thoughts, a wine for a 16yr old. Simply terrible. I had to temporarily grab a dark beer to cleanse the palette since my taste buds felt so tainted.

We eventually moved on the Moscato, which actually wasn't that bad - easily the best of the trio. The three muscat grapes (Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat à Petits Grains and Orange Muscat) provide the aromatics you would expect; but the flavor is diminished by a syrupy composition and a lack of acidity at the tail. Other than that, it was drinkable.

Final thought - I find it hard to believe that anyone liked these wines; but that's the beauty of different palettes. If you like these styles, go for it - for me; no way. Cheers

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Some Secrets at Tarara Winery

This week I had a little business to conduct at Tarara Vineyard & Winery and used the opportunity to catch up on their latest vintages. The last wine I had tasted was their very successful and highly acclaimed 2010 Honah Lee White which was awarded a Gold medal in the newly revamped 2012 Governor's Cup. And one of the reasons for my trip was to acquire more of this single vineyard blend. Unfortunately, I got sidetracked by their latest releases and totally forgot the purpose of my trip. During the tasting I sampled three whites, three reds, a dry rosé, and a dessert wine. With the exception of the Long Bomb Edition Three (as my mother-in-law says, I'm always "againsting" that wine), I enjoyed all the wines and they were very solid representations of the grape varieties.

I started with the 2011 Viognier ($20), sourced from two Northern Virginia vineyards: Williams Gap and Maggie’s Vineyard. And I encourage readers to visit the Tarara website which provides excellent information about all the vineyards where they source fruit.  This is a solid Viognier, more citrus and grassy than peach, with balanced acidity.  Next was the 2011 Petit Manseng ($23), one of my latest favored varieties, and at first I was stumped? Where was the sugar. The wine had pineapple flavors and the typical great acidity - but no sweetness. Then I learned the secret. This is a 100% dry Petit Manseng - very very little residual sugar with the bonus that it retains the flavor depth of a semi-dry or dessert wine. Nicely done. The final white was the 2010 Charval ($20.00) - and interesting blend of Chardonnay 65%, Sauvignon Blanc 14%, Petit Manseng 12%, Viognier 7% and Roussanne 2%. This is a crowd favorite; off-dry, easy drinking, fruity, and crisp acidity. What's not to like?

You want a value wine? Then check out their 2011 Rosé, a kitchen sink blend dominated by Malbec, with Syrah, Pinotage, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is currently on sale for $10 and is a sold dry rosé - raspberry aromas lead to a light strawberry flavor. For that price and quality, I couldn't resist.

Turning to reds, their 2010 Long-Bomb Edition Four ($20) completely makes up for my apathy to Edition Three. The wine is made from mostly Bordeaux grapes but resembles a Burgundian styled wine, strong dark cherry aroma and flavor with a slightly spicy finish - but complete silk in the mid-palette. The Pinot Noir dominates Bordeaux in this one. I was ready to run home with this one until I was told a secret - that is - given an opportunity to sample the 2010 #socialsecret. This is a limited edition wine marketed solely through social media. The wine is a blend of somewhat "secret" grape varieties: Tannat, Petite Verdot, and Pinotage that is silky smooth - with the profile and texture of a Rhône styled wine - and no smoke from the Pinotage. This is probably my favorite wine of Jordan's and I'm sure he and his staff had fun devising the final blend. The downside: $40 - on the very high end of our wine budget - but with the limited release I figured I could return another time for the LB4.

The final wine was the Late Harvest Petit Manseng, at 6% RS, more of the style of wine I had been expecting earlier. And with the grape's inherent acidity, this is a nice balanced wine between sugar and acids.

There's much more at Tarara: other vineyard designate wines, the Commonwealth Collection, views of the Potomac and Maryland, and a responsive tasting room staff. We'll be back. Cheers.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cider 101 - The Newtown (Albemarle) Pippin

Since it's currently Cider Week Virginia, I felt it appropriate to discuss the most famous apple variety from the Commonwealth of Virginia - The Albemarle Pippin. This is a versatile apple, suitable for eating, cooking, juicing, and hard cider.  The apple's official name is the Newtown Pippin and originated in Long Island from a chance seedling (known as a pippin) sometime in the early 1700s. Col. Thomas Walker of Castle Hill brought the apple to the Piedmont area after serving with Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War.  It quickly became extremely popular and was grown by Washington and Thomas Jefferson. It became an international sensation in 1838, when "Andrew Stevenson, the American minister to Great Britain, presented Queen Victoria with a gift basket of the apples from his wife's Albemarle County orchard. In response, the British Parliament lifted import duties on the variety...(wiki)".

Over time the Albemarle Pippin lost it's appeal; maybe because export markets became more difficult to penetrate or crops dwindled since the apple it is not easy to grow and requires a warm summer and autumn.  Plus the apple requires a couple months of storage after harvest in order for it to develop it's unique and complex tart-sweet flavor. This situation is definitely not suitable for distribution in large chains who now prefer the Delicious varieties. In recent times it has only been available in roadside markets, local orchards, or interestingly, from California-based Martinelli's in their sparkling cider. Which leads us to hard cider - where the Albemarle Pippin is favored in both single varietal, sparkling, and blended ciders.

The Albemarle Pippin returned to Col. Walker's Castle Hill estate through Castle Hill Cider where the apple is used in several ciders. Our favorite is the sparkling single varietal Levity - where the apple juice is fermented and aged in clay kvevri containers buried in the ground. The pippen is also blended with other varieties in their Celestial and Terrestrial hard ciders.

The first modern Virginia cidery, Foggy Ridge Cider, uses the Albemarle Pippin in several new and interesting cider products. These include the sparkling Foggy Ridge Handmade, Pippin Gold (a unique blend of 100% Newtown Pippin hard cider and apple brandy from Laird and Company), and the Pippin Black which combines hard cider from Newtown Pippin and Arkansas Black apples with Virginia apple brandy.

Other Virginia cideries have joined in the fun. Albemarle CiderWorks produces a couple ciders using the apple - the 100% Royal Pippin and Ragged Mountain. Potter's Craft Cider's flagship cider is a blend of Virginia Winesap and Albemarle Pippin. The latter is also a blend in the Old Hill Cider Yesteryear. And finally, keep in eye out for Blue Bee Cider where the cider master, Courtney Mailey was an apprentice at Albemarle CiderWorks and will be using the Albemarle Pippin when her ciders are available in 2013.

Virginia is not the only region to utilize the Newton Pippin; it can also be found at West County Winery & Ciders in Colrain Massachesetts; the large scale production Original Sin Hard Cider; and even in Canada by Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse in British Columbia.

So head on out and grab yourself a Newton or Albemarle Pippin hard cider. Cheers.

VirginiaWineTV Winemaker Series: Castle Hill Cider & Kvevri:

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fifth annual Regional Wine Week Starts November 12-16

It's time again for Regional Wine Week - five days in which consumers, retailers, bloggers, and writers can celebrate the virtues of local wine. DrinkLocalWine wants your stories on how you celebrate or enjoy local wine. Plus, the organization will announce the location and date for their Fifth annual Drink Local Wine Conference. I'm rooting for Maryland Wine - don't want to travel too far. Cheers.
DrinkLocalWine will hold its fifth annual Regional Wine Week from Nov. 12 to 16, where wine writers, bloggers and enthusiasts share information about wine from “The Other 47” states (excluding California, Washington and Oregon) -- providing a one-stop shop to see what’s cutting edge in regional wine.
The fourth annual regional wine week, held last year in October, was one of the most successful in the group’s history, linking to dozens of stories and blog posts about wine produced in more than half of the other 47 wine states.

This year’s bonus -– we’ll announce the site and date for our fifth annual DrinkLocalWine conference and give away two pairs of tickets in the process. Just check the website every day during wine week to find out how to win.

Our annual conference, which spotlights regional wine, was held in Denver in 2012, featuring the Colorado wine industry and its cool-climate varieties like Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Cabernet Franc. Previously, the conference has been held in Missouri, Virginia and Texas.
During wine week, writers from across the United States are asked to post stories to their blogs, Web sites, magazines, and newspapers about their favorite regional and local wines, wineries and events. Then, send us a link to the post, and our website will aggregate the stories, providing a snapshot of regional wine. Over the past four years, writers from across the country have covered dozens of states’ wine industries.

Regional Wine Week is open to anyone –- from professional wine writers to wine enthusiasts with Facebook pages or Tumblr sites. You can submit stories about anything related to wineries, winemakers and wines from the Other 47 states.

For information about Regional Wine Week or to submit a story link, call (469) 554-9463 or email us.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cider Week Virginia - Celebrate the Revival

Did you know that there is now nine cideries operating in the Commonwealth of Virginia? Until very recently, I thought there was only three; but it appears cider making is growing as rapidly as wine and beer. Now the industry has its own week, Cider Week Virginia, starting Friday November 9th through Sunday November 18th. During this period you can celebrate the historic tradition of Virginia cider making, learn about unique apple varieties such as the Albemarle Pippin or Graniwinkle, and most importantly, sample some excellent hard cider. Most of the events occur in Charlottesville and Richmond, but there are a few hosted in other regions. For Washington D.C. readers, there are two events in our area, the first, a Cider Dinner at Birch & Barley on the 12th and the second, a tasting at Norm's Beer & Wine on the 17th. But check out the events page for all options. Here is a list of Virginia Cideries and check out our videos featuring Foggy Ridge Cider and Castle Hill Cider.

MyJoogTV Episode 9: Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band @ Foggy Ridge Cider:

VirginiaWineTV Winemaker Series: Castle Hill Cider & Kvevri:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Exploring Bonterra, Organics, and Mendocino with ThirstyGirl & Leslie Sbrocco

Last night was another #TGTaste with Leslie Sbrocco featuring wines from Bonterra Vineyards, a California winery located in Mendocino County - just north of Sonoma. Specifically we sampled their 2011 Mendocino County Chardonnay and 2010 Mendocino County Merlot, both produced from certified organically grown grapes. Organic and Biodynamic® farming seems to be the culture in the county as a large percentage of vineyard practice those techniques or philosophies - 25% says wiki. Apparently, according to Bonterra, this "goes back to the history..young people moving here in the 60s to get back to the land". And nice farm land they found.

I also learned that the Russian River originates in Mendocino so in reality the Russian River valley is not inclusive to Sonoma - well maybe the AVA - but not the nutrients in the soil. The Chardonnay grapes were harvested along the river in the Sanel Valley whereas the Merlot grapes were grown in the warmer McNab ranch in Hopland.

We started with the Chardonnay ($14) which was produced using a combination of oak and stainless steel. 70% of the juice was fermented in a combination of French and American oak - also undergoing malolactic fermentation - whereas the remaining 30% was fermented in stainless steel. The wine was then aged in a different combination of neutral and new oak barrels. The result is a very good - I mean VERY GOOD - wine. The non-Chardonnay drinkers in our immediate group loved it as it started with a vibrant green apple flavor, followed by a creamy vanilla mid, ending in a balanced acidic-lemon finish. The bottle was empty rather quickly as we all enjoyed this one. Going to look to restock today.

Moving to the Merlot ($16), each lot was fermented separately and then blended together with small amounts of Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Carignane. Ms. Sbrocco informed me that the addition of these three grapes added "complexity and spicy notes" to the final product. This wine was also a big hit with the #TGTaste community, as @MyVineSpot tweeted "Delightfully approachable w/ aromas/flavors of dk cherry, raspberry, spice accents & cedar". But we had to wait awhile to allow the wine to breathe - the initial taste was quite mundane. However, after decanting the dark cherry flavors sprang forth, followed by some spice, and a very smooth, soft finish. Another lesson learned - decant as often as possible.

Overall, a very good night. I definitely plan on revisiting these wines (love the QPR) and spend more time researching the wines from Mendocino. Cheers.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wine 101: Sparkling Wines from Around the World

With Friday October 26th being the 3rd Annual #ChampagneDay 2012, I thought it wise to draft a compendium of the sparkling wines from around the world. First, what is sparkling wine? Basically, it is still wine augmented with significant levels of carbon dioxide - thus the bubbles or fizz. Sparkling wine can be produced using one of two methods: (1) still wines undergo a second fermentation (in the bottle or in a sealed vat) or (2) CO2 is directly injected into the bottled still wine.  The traditional method (méthode champenoise) involves a second fermentation in the bottle where sugar and yeast are added to the bottle, triggering a second fermentation. "Through the process of riddling and eventually disgorgement, the dead yeast cells (lees) are removed from the wine while still maintaining the dissolved carbon dioxide gas." The Charmat method is the other secondary fermentation method which occurs in pressurized stainless steel fermentation tanks. The fresh yeast and sugar mixture is added to the wine in these tanks - basically an economies of size solution to the méthode champenoise. After secondary fermentation the wine is cooled, clarified and bottled using a counter pressure filler.

Champagne - is produced in the Champagne region of France using the méthode champenoise and most likely Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes. Chardonnay is prized for its finesse and aging ability. Pinot Noir adds body and fruit while Pinot Meunier contributes substantially to the aroma, adding fruit and floral notes. The majority of Champagnes produced are non-vintage (or rather, multi-vintage) blends.

Crémant - is sparkling wine produced using méthode champenoise in seven French appellations and one in Luxenbourg. In France, Crémant wines must be hand harvested within fixed yields and the resulting sparkling wine must be aged at least one year. In Luxenbourg, Crémant is produced in the Moselle district using the traditional method followed by at least nine months of aging.
  • Crémant d'Alsace - produced from Pinot Blanc grapes, but may also contain Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
  • Crémant de Bordeaux
  • Crémant de Bourgogne - produced in Burgundy and must be composed of at least thirty percent Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris grapes.
  • Crémant de Die - produced in the Rhône Valley region using Clairette, Aligote and Muscat grapes.
  • Crémant du Jura - produced in the Jura wine region, located between Burgundy and Switzerland. White and rosé wines can be produced from Poulsard, Trousseau and Pinot Noir red grapes and Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Savagnin white grapes.
  • Crémant de Limoux - produced in the Languedoc region, specifically in the villages surrounding Limoux and composed primarily of Mauzac (Blanquette de Limoux).
  • Crémant de Loire - second largest producer of sparkling wine in France usually using a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc.
  • Crémant de Luxembourg - produced in the Moselle district using the traditional method followed by at least nine months of aging.

Cava - Spanish sparkling wine produced primarily around Catalonia.  According to Spanish law, cava may be produced in eight wine regions: Aragon, the Basque Country, Castile and León, Catalonia, Extremadura, Navarra, Rioja or the Valencian Community. Cava can be white or rosé (small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha or Monastrell are added). Traditionally Cava is produced from indigenous Macabeu, Parellada, and Xarello grapes but may also contain Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Subirat.

Prosecco - Italian sparkling wine made using the Charmat method and primarily Glera grapes harvested from Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia.

Asti - Italian sparkling wine that is produced in southeastern Piedmont, particularly around the towns of Asti and Alba. The wine is made from the Moscato Bianco grape using the Charmat method and is generally sweet and low in alcohol.

Lambrusco - Italian sparkling wine produced using the Charmat method in four zones in Emilia-Romagna and one in Lombardy using six Lambrusco red varieties: Lambrusco Grasparossa, Lambrusco Maestri, Lambrusco Marani, Lambrusco Montericco, Lambrusco Salamino and Lambrusco Sorbara. All of these various Lambrusco grapes are indigenous to Emilia and neither clones nor sub-clones.
Franciacorta - Italian sparkling wine from Lombardy using a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and using the méthode champenoise.

Sekt - German or Austrian sparkling wine produced usually using the Charmat method. Deutescher Sekt is produced exclusively from German grown grapes (Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir), whereas most Sekt is produced from imported grapes.In Austria, Sekt is produced from Welschriesling and Gruner Vetliner grapes.

Espumante - Portuguese sparkling wine produced throughout Portugal from the northern region of Vinho Verde to the southern region of the Alentejo. Quality Espumante is produced solely in DOC Bairrada, located just south of Vinho Verde, using the méthode champenoise and made from quick-pressed red Baga or Touriga Nacional grapes, fragrant white Maria Gomes, Arinto, Bical and Chardonnay.

Pezsgő - Hungarian sparkling wine produced primarily using the Charmat method, but more recently the méthode champenoise using indigenous Olaszrizling, Kékfrankos, Furmint, Királyleányka, Hárslevelű, Kéknyelű and Juhfark or Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Muscat Ottonel.

Penina - Slovenian sparkling wine made using the using the méthode champenoise usually from the Radgona-Kapela district (Drava Valley) or Bizeljsko-Brežice district ( Lower Sava Valley).

Australia - sparkling wine in Australia is usually made from Champagne grapes using the méthode champenoise with Tasmania and Victoria the most prized regions. Sparkling Shiraz is made from oak aged Syrah that undergoes secondary fermentation using méthode champenoise.

United Kingdom - sparkling wine is produced in the U.K. in Kent and Sussex counties using the méthode champenoise and from multiple grapes Seyval Blanc, Kerner, Müller-Thurgau; and to a lesser extent the Champagne grapes:  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

South Africa - South African sparkling wine is called Method Cap Classique, South Africa’s name for methode champenoise using traditional Champagne grape varieties.

United States: most American wineries produce sparkling wines using the methode champenoise and traditional Champagne grape varieties.
  • Finger Lakes - cooler climate allows for more intense flavors at a lower brix measurement using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling grapes.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Finger Lakes Wine Country Goes Sparkling and Icy

This week we participated in a Finger Lakes Wine Country Finger Lakes Wine Virtual Tasting Series tasting on Dessert, Sparkling, & Ice Wines. We were sent samples from seven Finger Lakes wineries - specifically three sparkling wines and four dessert or ice wines.during the tasting several bloggers shared their insight on the wines via Twitter (#FLXWineVT), submitted questions to the winemakers, and watched real time as the winemakers discussed their wines. 

We started with the sparkling wines and while tasting learned that this style is a "Labor of Love" for the winemakers and also, the the Finger Lakes cooler climate allows for more intense flavors at a lower brix measurement.  We started with the Atwater Estate Vineyards 2008 Sparkling Cuvee ($30), which is a
66% Pinot Noir and 34% Chardonnay blend. The grapes ripened at the same time, which allowed them to be co-fermented after being whole clustered pressed. The winery then follows the traditional Champagne Methodoise where the the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle with active riddling so that the lees do not settle in one area. The lees are removed during disgorging, more sugar and wine added during dosage, and then sealed with a champagne-style cork closure. The result is an impressive sparkling wines - full of green apple flavor, a strong mid-palette, and a refreshing lemon finish.

We moved next to the 100% Pinot Noir 2008 Blanc de Noir ($30) from McGregor Vineyard Winery. This wine was created because winemaker Jeff Dencenburg wanted to experiment with a 100% PN. My feelings is that the wine is just not on par, particularly when following the Atwater Cuvee. Yes this wine had a decent mouth feel, but the flavor was bland and not exciting. Many of the other bloggers disagreed, proving that no two palettes are the same.

The final sparkling wine was the Swedish Hill Winery Riesling Cuvee ($18) - a most interesting wine fermented to 3.5% R.S. and reminding many of us as a Proseco - with more flavor. The Riesling juice was tank fermented in order to retain the inherent flavor of the grape. The result is a food friendly sparkler with a strong amount of lychee on the nose and a nice balance between sugar and acidity at the tail. Nicely done.

Round two consisted of the dessert and ice wines and these were all well received. We started with the Casa Larga Vineyards 2008 Fiori Vidal Blanc Ice Wine ($45). The name translates to Flower of Stars in Italian and is what the harvest workers view in the dead of night when harvesting the frozen grapes. Yes, true German style Eiswein are produced from grapes harvested when completely frozen in the middle of night - usually in late December or early January. As expected, the volume at harvest is much lower than for grapes harvested on a normal schedule resulting in 1/4 less yield (1 ton of grapes = 160 gallons vs 1 ton of grapes = 40 gallons). The Eiswein juice is then cold fermented and the result is a slightly syrupy sweet nectar. And the beauty of using Vidal Blanc is the natural acidity and the grape balances the concentrated sugar in the wine. The is a very nice apricot flavored wine - perfectly balanced between sweetness and acidity.

The other true "Eiswein" was the Knapp Vineyards Winery 2010 Vidal Ice Wine ($25). The was my preferred dessert wine of the evening showcasing an orange aroma, followed by a full - full apricot profile, finishing with refreshing acidity.  This reminded of the famed Hungarian Tokaji wines - with a high puttonyos. And at $25 a bargain.

The last two wines were produced in an ice wine style where the grapes were harvested late and then immediately frozen in order to concentrate the sugars. The Lucas Vineyards 2010 Vidal Blanc Iced ($25) was very similar to the Knapp, without the orange aroma, but a very similar apricot flavor profile. Just a tad lighter - but a very nice wine. The Standing Stone Vineyards 2010 Gewurztraminer Ice ($25) is an excellent alternative to the Vidal, emanating a more lychee flavor profile with a spicy finish. Gewurztraminer is an interesting grape to use for an ice styled wine since its low level of acids would be difficult to balance the concentrated sugar. Yet freezing the grapes solves this problem by concentrating the acids in addition to the sugar. The result is a balanced wine.

Cheers to the Finger Lakes - there's more than just Riesling.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Exploring Columbia Crest H3 with ThirstyGirl & Leslie Sbrocco

We were invited to participate in the monthly #TGTaste with Leslie Sbrocco featuring wines from the Columbia Crest Winery H3 brand - specifically three wines from Washington State's Horse Heaven Hills AVA. This area is located in south-eastern Washington and is surrounded by the Columbia Valley AVA and Yakima Valley AVA to the North and the Columbia River to the South. It is responsible for 25% of grapes harvested in the Evergreen state and 100% of the grapes in the wines we received. Winemaker Juan Munoz Oca explains that this AVA gives whites more minerality and reds more cocoa, earth and dust notes.

The first wine poured was the Columbia Crest 2010 Horse Heaven Hills Chardonnay ($15) made from 100% whole berry whole berry pressed Chardonnay with 75% fermented in various types of oak barrels. The result is a very interesting and unique Chardonnay. Yes, it possesses that characteristic Chardonnay flavors, including green apple and even some pineapple, as well as some silky creamy texture from the oak treatment. What distinguishes this wine is a spicy - almost nutmeg - finish - that really alters the tasting experience. Not really sure how to handle the finish. But after breathing the spiciness became more subtle

The second wine was the Columbia Crest 2010 Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) , 97% cab of pure enjoyment. It's medium bodied which oozes cherries with a velvety mid-palette, and a  smooth, soft finish - very little tannins. What an easy drinking wine - and this one came with those cocoa notes. But what about the other 3%? According to Oca, the 1% Cabernet Franc provides herbal notes to the nose and adds layers of fruit and depth. Not bad for a 1 percent-er.  And the 2% Merlot provides some backbone & structure.

The final wine was the Columbia Crest 2010 Horse Heaven Hills Les Chevaux Red ($15) - a Merlot dominant blend augmented with Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah. Named in honor of the AVA, "the Horses" is also a smooth cherry flavored wine with more acidity than the Cabernet Sauvignon as well as a slight tobacco. This seemed to be the #TGTaste favorite - this writer excluded.

Cheers to Columbia Crest and H3.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Northwest Expressions - #WAWine Food and Wine Experience

This week I was graciously invited to the Northwest Expressions - a  #WAWine Food and Wine Experience hosted by Josh Wade from the Nectar Wine Bar as well as Visit Spokane. The luncheon featured five wines from the Spokane region paired with food catered by Geppetto Catering, Inc. There are just over 20 wineries located around Spokane, with many operating tasting bars downtown. Whereas some grapes used by Spokane are wineries are sourced from other AVAs, we  learned how challenging the Sokane environment is for estate vineyards - particularly their early frost and late Spring. In fact, the region encountered it's first frost of the season two nights ago - whereas here in Virginia - harvest continues for some varieties like Cabernet Franc. And being only 15 or so miles from the Idaho border, the Spokane region probably has more in common with the Snake River Valley AVA then other Washington state AVAs. We also learned that Spokane is home to Washington's first post-Prohibition distillery - Dry Fly Distilling - that's reason enough to plan a visit.

We started our tasting with the Arbor Crest Wine Cellars 2011 Bacchus Vineyard Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc paired with an assortment of appetizers - seconds were ordered for the Rabbit Empanadas. Apparently Arbor Crest with their Cliff House Estate is a popular tourist attraction, particularly in the Spring when over 20 thousand tulips bloom. The winery is also one of the oldest in the Evergreen state (the 29th) and has been producing Sauvignon Blanc from the very beginning. The 2011 Bacchus Vineyard is an excellent value ($10) for a lemon-citrus wine with sweet sensations followed by a tart and acidic lemon finish - without the grassy flavor of New Zealand.

Next up was the Barrister Winery Barrister's Block Red, a non-vintage blend of four grape varieties (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, and 5% each Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec) from three separate vineyards ( Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills and Bacchus).  This was my favorite wine of luncheon, pepper in the nose and tail; but a silky creamy mid-palette that was quite savory. This was also the most expensive wine in the tasting - $32.

Josh served the Mountain Dome Winery Brut as a palette cleanser for the main course and this wine proved that affordable and tasty sparklers are available in Spokane. The wine is made méthode champenoise and consists of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. It is a clean refreshing wine with subtle green apple flavors. Quite tasty - and priced between $15-$18 - a bargain.

The main course included roasted herb chicken and wild Atlantic Salmon cakes,  so we broke etiquette and consumed the Robert Karl Cellars 2009 Horse Heaven Hills Claret ($20). The winery loves to hold wine back in the bottle to allow it to mature and this is no exception. This wine exudes cherries, from front to back, with an interesting leather character.

We finished lunch with the Townshend Cellar Late Harvest Chenin Blanc and an apple tart with Josh explaining that the wine must be sweeter than the dessert. At 12%RS, this is a sweet wine - reminiscent of some Tokaji wines - with apricot flavor predominant. Wonder if dry Chenin Blanc and Furmint are similar? In any case, this was a splendid finale for the lunch - great to spend time with old friends and finally able to meet Josh and the Visit Spokane folks. Hope to share a meal with them again on their side of the country - perhaps in the Spring - we all love Tulips.