Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rum, Hammond, and Beer in St. Kitts and Nevis

My whole family just returned from celebrating Christmas and vacationing at the wonderful Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. Besides the normal sun, sand, snorkling, and snoring that generally accompanies a beach vacation; this trip included plenty of local beer, rum, and hammond: local moonshine.

When arriving in St. Kitts you immediately notice the supremacy of Carib beer advertising as its displayed everywhere - bars, billboards, and boats.  Even though the parent company is located in Trinidad, there's a local Carib Brewery that produces its namesake beer as well as almost anything else drunk on the island - including Ting (grapefruit juice beverage) and Shandy (low alcohol, sweet beverages).  Once you tire of the the sweet malty flavors of Carib, most bars also carry Skol and Stag - two European styled lagers with slightly more hops - but headaches galore.  Most interesting, during a beach bar crawl on Frigate Bay, the friendly bartender Aleric at ChinChillas, brought out two surprise local beers: a Guinness and Mackesons. Apparently Carib Brewery partners with the parents of these brands (Carlsberg for Stol) and brews these favorites on the island. The Mackeson Cream Stout became a regular night time ritual and I learned to drink Guinness in the local custom - on the rocks. Best of all, there was price parity between the stouts and the lagers.

>Beer's all good, but of course when in the islands, Rum is the word and I immediately headed to the Duty Free store to at the Marriott to stock up for the week. They offer samples of the various rums locally distilled at Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum. The distillery offers a wide portfolio from spiced, coconut, mango, vanilla, and even coffee - which may have been my favorite. Their spiced rum was not over the top (mostly vanilla and nutmeg) and was a nice sipping rum for Christmas. However, I was seeking a solid reserved rum to fortify weakly made coladas and rum punches and none of Havana Club Havana Club Añejo 7 Años - my mind was set - not only because of its Cuban origins but also its a sweet honey and nutty flavor. I carried a water bottle filled with the HC all week, great for sipping on the beach or fortifying cocktails. One of these cocktails was a Ting and Sting - the grapefruit beverage above and Cane Spirit Rothschild (CSR) - a white rum produced from sugar cane syrup. Quite refreshing - although CSR comes with a burn - don't bother drinking neat. Although still billed as the Spirit of St Kitts, CSR has been distilled by Demerara Distillers Limited in Guyana and then bottled at a plant in Basseterre since the death of CRS's founder Baron Edmund Rothschild.  Another rum distilled by DDL and bottled in St. Kitts is Belmont Estate, a medium bodied rum - nothing special - but at $8 a decent souvenir.

Now being a fan of all things distilled - and those undercover of darkness - I asked around about real locally made rum and learned about hammond. This is the St. Kitts version of moonshine and most is now made in the more secluded island of Nevis. Fortunately we planned a Blue Water Safaris catamaran excursion to the island where I learned that several bars utilize the hammond in their rum punches. At our first stop, I asked for several rum punches and a hammond and with a smile the bartender pulled out a container containing a clear liquid and poured a couple fingers.  This one had a hot sugary aroma, but the flavor profile was rather smooth - trending more to a cachaca then traditional rum.  The punch was also made with hammond and with the addition of a nutmeg sprinkle was a more interesting twist of the standard fruity flavor. I then pressed my luck and asked if there were any darker versions of hammond and after a few whistles and shouts a water bottle appeared with a medium roasted looking rum. The aroma was incomprehensible - part peat, part hay, part tobacco - with a more pronounced wild nutty flavor that lasts forever. The most bizarre spirit I have ever tasted - but so intriguing. This hammond was distilled from molassis that has been fermented with with yucca and aged with green nuts. Guiness on the rocks is a nice chaser to this one.

Finally, no trip to St. Kitts is complete without a stop at the famous Rum Tree - between Sprat Net and the entrance to Caribelle Batik. Now that's a Christmas Tree. Cheers and pair with any steel drum or reggae music.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wine Chateau brings back memories with the Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Oro Gold 2008

When our friends at the Wine Chateau forwarded a care package, one of the wines brought back memories of my first ventures into wine though the Ruffino brand. A neighborhood Italian restaurant served the Ruffino Il Ducale and over time we graduated to the top of the chain - the Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Oro Gold ($30). The winery has operated in Tuscany since 1877, when the cousins Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino starting sourcing local fruit to produce wine. Over time the winery survived succession and war and in 1947 winery produces it first Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Oro Gold. In this package I received the 2008 vintage, one year removed from the 50th anniversary bottling. The Sangiovese grapes are harvested  from the Ruffino estates of Gretole, Santedame, and Montemasso, within the Chianti Classico sub region. The wine also includes a small percentage of Cabernet and Merlot and was aged two years in oak and then another six months in bottle. The result is a big wine with luscious dark black fruit, some leather and dirt, and a polished finish - smooth with  balanced tannins. A very good wine at a very reasonable price. Cheers

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Graffigna Centenario Elevation Red Blend Reserve 2012

During the past few weeks I have been learning about Argentinean wine through Protocol Wine Studio's titter chat #winestudio. This week they had planned their Grand Tasting of the wines discussed in previous weeks, and wouldn't you know that that day, I received a prize from Argovino a reviewer of Argentinean wine. Apparently my email was selected from their newsletter subscribers and I was sent the Graffigna Centenario Elevation Red Blend Reserve 2012 ($10). Forget about the price tag for a moment. The Graffigna family immigrated from Italy and settled in San Juan, Argentina - establishing the winery in 1870. This makes them the oldest winery in the Pedernal Valley and the second oldest in all of Argentina. San Juan is located in the steppes of the Andes Mountains - a desert climate - dry, with 310 days of annual sunshine. Wind sweeps off the mountains that help to prevent mildew rot and disease. The Graffigna estates are located anywhere from 700-1,500 meters above sea level on steep slopes that are nourished from an underground water supply. Graffigna Centenario Elevation Red Blend Reserve 2012 is an equal blend of Bonarda (Douce noir/Charbono), Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, and Tannat. The wine is fruit forward, made to be drunk now, even though there are some subtle tannins to balance the fruit. The flavor is a jammy blackberry plum combo followed by nice acidity. This is a very drinkable wine and for ten bucks - what's not to like. Pair with The Gipsy Kings. Cheers.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wine Chateau Uncorks Life with the 2011 Château des Jacques Moulin-à Vent

Our friends at the Wine Chateau sent us another care package this Fall and I immediately saw fit to open the 2011 Château des Jacques Moulin-à Vent ($23). The wine is part of the Louis Jardot portfolio and is made from Gamay grown in the prestigious Moulin-à-Vent appellation in Beaujolais. Nothing wrong with the seasonal Beaujolais Nouveau, but this is a more Burgundian wine - having spent ten months in oak (30% in new oak) - and is age-able for those with patience. Not here. This is a juicy wine, full of black cherry, plenty of texture, with a slight mocha chocolate finish.  Well done, indeed. Check back soon when we open the Ruffino Classico Riserva and Castello Banfi Belnero. Cheers.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup & Beer: Is It Possible?

During last Spring's coverage of the Savor Craft Beer Experience I read about a new fad in craft brewing - combining peanut butter and chocolate into the brewing process. Being a major peanut butter fan, I was intrigued with this concept; yet promptly forgot about it when Summer ascended. In the Fall, I was reminded due to my Lost Dog Cafe app alerted me that the Twisted Pine Brewing Company - Rhesus Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout was being poured at one of their locations. I hurried over that day to taste the Rhesus and was both disappointed and encouraged. The disappointment arose because the Rhesus didn't really taste like a Reese's peanut butter cup; instead these flavors were subtle and the beer more stout like. On the other hand, I was encouraged because I did like this beer even though I had to strain to appreciate the Reese's qualities.

Over the next couple of weeks I searched for more beers in this style and finally landed the beer that many had recommended - the DuClaw Brewing Company - Sweet Baby Jesus!. This is a porter from a Maryland brewery I've been following for quite sometime and pretty much nails a Reese's cup. There is plenty of chocolate and peanut butter - but also balance - as the tail finishes with a smooth hoppy character. Keeping with the lexicon - so far this is the Holy Grail of  Peanut Butter Chocolate beers.

At the same time I was able to find a Rogue Brewery - Voodoo Chocolate, Peanut Butter & Banana Ale easy to spot in the pink bottle with Voodoo’s "Memphis Mafia" doughnuts. This is the sweetest of the three with plenty of banana throughout - nose, palette, and finish. In my opinion, the excess artificial banana was it's downfall - overwhelming the chocolate and the peanut butter. To others in our tasting party - that was not a problem. 

Finally there's one more in this style I am familiar with that I have not been able to sample: Florida's Rapp Brewing Company - Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout.  I'm not sure how wide their distribution but will seek them on theCompass Alcohol Locator our next trip to Tampa.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Learning about Chablis - the Wine and Region - with Pure Chablis

Last week Pure Chablis came to D.C. to showcase the region's wines and I was fortunate to be invited to a lunch at Proof.  The lunch was hosted by Jean-François Bordet, the current President of the Chablis Wine Board (in addition to winemaker at Domaine Séguinot-Bordet) and Françoise Roure of Burgundy Wines. It's easy to forget that Chablis is situated in Burgundy even though it lies closer to Champagne than Côte de Nuits. That means its a cold grape growing climate; we saw fascinating pictures of frost fighting techniques and snow covered vines. But the cold brings acidity which is a coveted characteristic of Chablis wine. Minerality is another characteristic. The soil is 150 million years old and the Kimmeridgian Limestone is loaded with fossilized oyster shells (see accompanying photo).
Kimmeridgian Limestone Rock

Like many Medieval town, Chablis is built upon a waterway, the Serein River, which provides two more characteristics to Chablis wine. First, vines are planted on the hills overlooking both banks, with the right side receiving the evening sun and the left bank the morning sun. This means the right bank receives more exposure - providing a little more flavor to the Chardonnay grapes. Second, Chablis wine is usually fermented and aged in steel; but when oak is used, it's neutral oak. This is partly because of the region's proximity to Paris - only two hours away by train.  Wine was transported by river to the capital city by barrel and then returned to be reused once more. Regions residing further away from Paris did not receive returns  and became to rely on new oak each year.

The Chablis region maintains a Appellation D'Origine Controllee system with four classifications: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru. The first two are broader in nature; while the second two consist of specific climats - or micro-terroirs. During our lunch at Proof, the wines were from the last three appellations and were selected for their relative availability in the U.S. market. (The U.S. market ranks 5th in Chablis consumption following the U.K., France, Belgium, and Germany.)

We started with the La Chablisienne Chablis La Pierrelée 2011 ($23). La Chablisienne is an old cooperative, started in 1923, and accounts for one quarter of the region's wine production (10 million bottles). This wine is a cuvée sourced from grapes grown throughout the region fermented in stainless steel and aged on lees in tank. The result is a light wine - not powerful - but displaying finesse with a lychee aroma, a green apple flavor and fresh acidity finish.

The next was Mr. Bordet's wine, the Domaine Séguinot-Bordet Chablis Premier Cru Fourchume 2010 ($35). The domaine is located on the right bank, far north corner of Chablis around the hamlet of Maligny. Jean-François is the 13th generation winemaker and this is the oldest continually operating winery in Chablis - that's 1590 for those counting. Now that's some history. Interestingly, he practiced winemaking in Michigan - learning about Riesling and Gewurtztraminer. When he returned home in 1998,  he became the youngest winemaker in Chablis accompanied by his grandfather who was the oldest. The Premier Cru Fourchume is at once elegant and intense with a fresh lychee aroma, an iodine earthy mid, and a long refreshing finish. This is one quality wine - very nice.

The Premier Crus kept coming with the Simonnet Febvre Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2010 ($30) and the Louis Moreau Chablis Premier Cru Les Fourneaux 2009 ($27).  The second seemed a bigger wine, more structure with vanilla notes, but both displayed the fresh acidic finish.  Two notes, the Simonnet Febvre is a left bank wine whereas the Louis Moreau is a right bank produced by a two hundred year old domaine. 

We finished the afternoon with a Grand Cru - the Domaine Servin Chablis Grand Cru Blanchots 2011 ($45).  There are only seven Grands Cru climats in Chablis and the Domaine Servin right bank vines face east-west - giving more morning sun exposure. The result is more fruit (this is also a rare unoaked Grand Cru),  less minerality, and even less acidity - as compared to the others.  Despite the un-Chablis style - this wine is impressive. Probably my second favorite behind the Séguinot-Bordet. Cheers to Chablis and a hearty thanks to Pure Chablis and Proof.

Friday, November 22, 2013

#Winechat with Uncorked Ventures & Wesley Ashley Wines

This past Wednesday @wineclubguy of Uncorked Ventures hosted the weekly #winehchat and featured tow wine from Wesley Ashley Wines in which I was able to receive samples.  The winery's website contains an interesting video describing their birth and the Intelligent Design brand so I recommend watching. As for the wines, we sampled their 2011 Intelligent Design Cuvee Blanc White Rhone Styled Blend ($34) and the 2011 Intelligent Design Cuvee ($34) . The Cuvee Blanc is an intriguing blend of  Viognier 60%; Roussanne 30%;and Grenache Blanc 10% - all sourced from Santa Barbara. It is a very nice wine, starting with floral aromas; plenty of depth and a creamy sensation due to some ML treatment. The one downside was the reduction in acidity - that is intentional - based on their consumer's profiles.  Yet, all in all, a very tasty wine.  The red Cuvee is another Rhone styled blend, composed of Grenache 75%; Syrah 20%; and Petite Sirah 5%. It starts with a leathery aromas, transitions to a deep raspberry flavor with decent structure and finishes long with spicy black pepper. Another very nice wine. Pair with Dawes - performing soon at the Lobero Theatre. Cheers.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

“Field to Flask”™ with Heritage Distilling

I recently received the good fortune of having five spirits shipped to me from Heritage Distilling, a craft distiller located in Gig Harbor, Washington. Jack-pot. And just as importantly. I learned about the Washington State's craft distilling designations and this distiller's unique “Field to Flask”™ ethos.  First, in order to be classified as a Craft Distillery in Washington State, a distillery must certify on a monthly basis, that fifty percent of their non water raw materials are grown in the state. Heritage extends this further by establishing their “Field to Flask”™ program where they manage every part of the process. They work directly with the family farmers providing grain and fruit, mill this grain themselves, cooking the mash, distilling the wort, and so on and so on.

The distilleries main brand is the Elk Rider series which pays tribute to their Western heritage - particularly the pioneer families who resided in what is now Olympic National Park.  I sampled the Elk Rider Blended Whiskey, which is - simply - fantastic. The aroma is a sweet leathery texture, the mid-palette toasted grain - the the finish, sweet, clean and smooth. Don't waste mixing in a cocktail - neat or on the rocks is where this whiskey belongs. This bottle failed to live though the weekend.

The next whiskey was oh so cool, particularly for history buffs like me: the Commander’s Rye Whiskey - based on our Founding Father's original 1797 recipe. Heritage pays tribute to their state's namesake by recreating this rye whiskey using a combination of rye, corn and malted barley. They result is a raw, petrol aroma followed by a very pleasant mid-palette ending with a sweet, almost powdery sugar finish. Very interesting finish. Once again, consumer neat or on the rocks.

It appears that Heritage is leveraging the apple-moonshine popularity by creating the Fall Classic Apple Cider Flavored Whiskey.  This is made in the moon-shine tradition, by mixing corn whiskey and apple cider and sold in a jug. I was at first hesitant since I normally avoid these types of "flavored" spirits - but the Fall Classic won me over starting with the nutmeg- apple aroma. The flavor is then all apple with tail a mouthful of dry spices.  This one will be going into a Josie Russell.
The final two spirits where a first, vodka and gin distilled from Washington grapes - many different grapes to be precise. Apparently after the second distillation, all varietal characteristics of the grape disappears. The HDC Vodka is triple distilled - leaving no recognition of grapes or brandy -  just a pure clean spirit from the sweet start to the  smooth even finish. The HDC Soft Gin is basically the HDC Vodka infused with several botanicals. It is more citrus than most gins, with a lively spicy finish. The distiller recommends as a base for a Bloody Mary and with the citrus and spice - you may only need tomato juice and Worcestershire.  Also a spirit with pedigree - 2013 “DOUBLE GOLD-BEST GIN” medal winner at FiftyBest.com Int’l Tasting (New York). Nice.

Heritage Distilling epitomizes the renaissance in the craft distillery market. They produce a broad and unique portfolio of locally sourced, hand held spirits. Cheers to that - and pair with the American outlaw blues of the JD Hobson Band.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Virtual Wines with Old York Cellars: Malbec & Riesling

This past Thursday was another quarterly installment of Virtual Wines, hosted by Old York Cellars, an online video tasting of two wines with wine maker Scott Gares and Sommelier Laurin Dorman.This episode featured their newly released 2012 Malbec ($18) and 2012 Sweet Riesling ($17).

Being recently bottled, the Malbec needed some time to breathe and was quite tight when first opened.  It is a light Malbec, 12% alcohol, but exuded a dark cherry aroma. On the palette, the flavor was light and smooth - decent acidity - wouldn't recognize as that varietal wine - but a very drinkable wine.

The Sweet Riesling was more semi-sweet than sweet at 3% R.S. with plenty of acidity to bite through the sugar. This time the flavor profile was to spec; easily recognizable as a Riesling - this one with  pear aromas and green apple flavor.  I'm sure this will become a tasting room favorite.

Besides sending me the two wines to sample, the best part of the tasting is that Dorman and Gares suggest food pairings for each wine. For the Malbec, they suggested leaner red meats, pork, and light tomato based pasta; for the Riesling, spicy Thai chicken, chile, pumpkin ravioli, and even cheesecake. Fortunately we had just brought home pumpkin ravioli and indeed the Riesling was a suitable match. Thanks. The next Virtual Vines tasting is planned for January 30th and will feature their 2011 Vidal Blanc and 2012 Syrah. Cheers and plenty of live music at the winery to pair with these wines. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cider, Wine, and Sparkling - Great Shoals Winery

We heard recently that Maryland cider maker, Great Shoals Winery, opened a tasting room in my old neighborhood, so on my next trip home, I headed a few miles away to Heyser Farms. This is the orchard that grows the tasty Spencerville Red apples which Great Shoals has developed into one of my favorite hard ciders.  But there are more reasons to visit - several other hard ciders, including the Black Twig; still wines such as Chardonnay and Chambourcin; and many Champagne-styled sparkling wines - either grape or fruit. These last are made in the true traditional méthode champenoise and are nice interpretations of local fruit. Visitors have a choice of many tasting routes and I choose the Champagne-styled fruit sparkling wines which included Apple, Peach, Pomme Aronia (Aronia berries), and Elderberry. The last two were my favorites, I think from their uniqueness which balances the many apple profiles in their portfolio. The one objection: sample sizes were very small - even after paying a tasting fee.  I couldn't leave without stocking up on some hard cider - now that biking season is ending - time for more Hemingway Josie Russell.  Pairing all with Maryland based O.A.R.. Cheers

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Who's #5 - Trying to Unscramble State Wine Production Statistics

Recently I read an article titled Pa. wine production ranks 5th in the nation, which surprising since for the past few years I was under the impression that either Virginia or Texas ranked 5th - both behind the usual suspects: California, Washington, Oregon, and New York. The article did not site any data to support their claim, and no response from author Karissa Shatzer, so I decided to research myself. There are basically two appropriate sources of data, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which regulates the wine industry at the Federal level, and the National Agricultural Statistics Service, which, as their name implies, collects agricultural data.  We could also use  unofficial data from winecompass.com for ranking states by the number of wineries operating in each state (Figure 1).  In this scenario, the figures aligned to conventional wisdom (at least mine) with Virginia and Texas competing for #5. 
State  Wineries

California 2,667
Washington 556
Oregon 475
New York 311
Virginia 241
Texas 234
Pennsylvania 203
Ohio 141
Missouri 134
Michigan 128
Figure 1. Number of wineries operating by state - includes meaderies and cideries

However, I don't think winecompass.com was the source that Ms. Shatzer used. She stated 5th largest wine producer and the best source for that data is the TTB's Statistical Report by State - Wine. (See Figure 2.) The data for 2012 reveals some mighty unexpected results. New York leaps out as the #2 overall wine producer - perhaps a legacy of Canandaigua Brands. (Is Manischewitz that popular?) In any case, besides New York overtaking Washington, the other surprises are the unlikely inclusion of Vermont, Kentucky, Florida, and New Jersey. The TTB data includes cider production which most likely accounts for Vermont's high stature as well as non-grape fruit wine (New Jersey) - but how that explains Kentucky and Florida - I have no idea. According to the TTB, Pennsylvania is the 6th largest wine producer with Virginia (16th) and Texas (11th) out of the top 10. 
State  2012 Production

California 667,552,032
New York 26,404,066
Washington 24,506,226
Oregon 6,829,808
Vermont 4,205,258
Pennsylvania 3,589,603
Ohio 3,048,054
Kentucky 2,379,512
Florida 1,946,162
New Jersey 1,561,365
Figure 2. Top 10 Wine Production by State
I mentioned that the TTB data includes cider and wine made from non-grape fruit, so what about limiting the data to just grape wine production. For this type of data, we need the National Agricultural Statistics Service and their Noncitrus Fruits and Nuts 2012 Preliminary Summary. The first chart I noticed was on page 48 titled Grape Bearing Acreage, Yield, Production, Price, and Value - States and United States: 2010-2012 data (Figure 3).  Displaying the top ten shows Pennsylvania and Michigan high on the list at the expense of Oregon, Texas, and Virginia. Now, this data includes all grapes, whether used for wine, table, or raisins; and thus needs to be limited further.
Top 10 Grape Production in Tons
  1. California
  2. Washington
  3. New York
  4. Pennsylvania
  5. Michigan
  6. Oregon
  7. Texas
  8. Virginia
  9. North Carolina
  10. Ohio
Figure 3. Top 10 Grape Harvest Production 
A more appropriate source is page 52 of the Noncitrus Fruits and Nuts report: Grape Processed Utilization and Price by Use - States and United States: 2010-2012. This report encompasses grape  wine production and I've listed the top producers for 2010 and 2012 in Figure 4.  These results align more closer to my preconceived notions on wine production by state; although Michigan has passed Virginia to capture the 6th spot. Using the 2010 data, Pennsylvania is in fact the #5 wine producer. However, wine grape production declined sharply from 2010 -> 2012 which could be explained by changes in methodology in the surveys; moving towards lower yielding, but higher quality grapes; or perhaps moving grape utilization more towards jellies instead of wine. Regardless, according to this table, Pennsylvania is ranked 8th, not far below Texas, Michigan, and Virginia.
State       2010 Production      2012   Production

California3,589,000 3,700,000
Washington 160,000 185,000
Oregon31,200 46,000
New York48,000 40,000
Texas8,100 7,200
Michigan3,800 6,950
Virginia6,450 6,700
Pennsylvania10,300 6,200
Missouri5,040 4,550
North Carolina4,500 4,420
Figure 4. Top 10 Grapes Processed for Wine (tons)

Like most statistical analysis, these results vary by year, by data source, by data inputs - so yes, it is complicated. According to the TTB's total wine production (including non-grape wine and cider) in 2012, Pennsylvania was ranked 6th overall with Virginia and Texas out of the top 10. Yet, restricting our analysis to just grape wine production, Pennsylvania falls to 8th, with Texas, Michigan, and Virginia rising above the Keystone state.  What was more unexpected was the rise in Michigan's grape wine production almost doubling in two years.  I wonder if the number of wineries doubled as well or this results from much larger yields?

In any case, the exact ranking of states probably only matters for bragging rights between government officials or winery associations. For consumers, it shows that there are plenty of local wine regions to explore. Cheers to that.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sparkling Cyser? Oh yea - Blue Dog Mead Green Collar Cyser Mead

 After a day of cycling I ended with the normal practice of grabbing a beer at my local Wholefood Market. The on tap menu was heavy on heavy beers so I ventured to the singles isle and sighted an interesting green can holding the Blue Dog Mead Green Collar Cyser Mead. Sparkling cyser mead at that. Cyser is a traditional mead made with apples, so I thought, why not.   The apples are sourced from Washington State and fermented with Wildflower Honey. After the injection of CO2, the result is a refreshing beverage, with a surprising vanilla finish and not that laden with R.S.  Quite thirst quenching and a decent pairing with local oysters. Cheers.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Agave Wine or Watery Tequila: La Quinta De Oro Agave Wine

Recently I found this interesting item in the orphaned wine & beer bin at my local Wholefoods and decided to give it a temporary home. The La Quinta De Oro Agave Wine is produced in the Tequila region by the San Gabriel Beverage Group using 100% Blue Agave and fortified with 100% agave spirits. The fortification cuts off at 20% abv so that the beverage maintains its wine status.

The color is a cloudy light yellow and the aroma all agave. In fact you'd think you held a neat tequila in your hands. On the palette, the fresh agave flavor appears and then rapidly dissipates leaving a watery bland finish. Very difficult to get used to - because from the aroma and initial taste, I was expecting the strength of a tequila which obviously was not present. Fortunately we lucked into the appropriate food pairing, spicy chili, where the chili spices reinforced the weak finish. Instead of falling flat, the agave wine and chili combination was quite pleasant. Thus we only recommend paired with Los Lonely Boys and chili. Cheers.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The 2013 World Series of Wine, Craft Beer, & Craft Distillers

Besides being two great baseball cities, St. Louis and Boston are also great craft beer, wine, and craft spritis cities.  Budweiser and Sam Adams are easily recognizable; but there are several new rising stars in these competitors. Starting with wine, St. Louis is the base camp for journeys into Missouri Wine Country - particularly west into the Hermann and Augusta AVAs and south along the Mississippi River. The Norton grape rules here and Missourians recognize its virtues along with Vignoles, Chardonnel, Chambourcin, and other hybrid grapes.  There are fewer local wineries surrounding Boston, but you just got to find them - usually south through the Coastal Wine Trail. One surprising good find is Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery. In Massachusetts the trail also includes Coastal Vineyards, Running Brook Vineyards, Travessia Winery, and Truro Vineyards of Cape Cod.

As for spirits, both cities are deeply involved in the craft distillers market. In Cardinal country, Square One Distillery, Still 630 and a little west, Pinckney Bend Distillery are producing various whiskeys, vodka, gin, and even rum for the local market. In Red Sox territory, Bully Boy Distillery and Nashoba Valley Distillery are distilling on Boston proper while Turkey Shore Distilleries and Ryan and Wood Distilleries are operating slightly north.  Rum is a bigger player in New England, more reflective of the colonial experience; but there is also plenty of locally produced whiskey, vodka, gin, and brandy.

Finally, St. Louis and Boston are quite obviously associated with beer.  Obviously there's Anheuser-Busch; but Cardinal fans drink plenty of local craft beer with over a dozen operating in the region. My personal favorite is Schlafly Bottleworks and their canned line of Session beers.  Boston and beer are practically synonymous and as the documentary How Beer Saved the World suggests, the Revolutionary War was argued over a few pints.  And the contemporary east coast craft beer revival originated in Red Sox land with the Boston Beer Company, Harpoon Brewery, & Ipswich Ale Brewery. There's plenty more craft brewers who have followed in their footsteps Trillium Brewing, John Harvards Brew House, Cambridge Brewing Company, Somerville Brewing Company, and others.

And as always information concerning these establishments are listed at WineCompass and theCompass mobile app.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Belated and Redundant - "What Are The Best Pumpkin Beer" Post

I know it's already late in the pumpkin beer season and am sure people have tired of pumpkin beer reviews; but I'll beat a dead horse and release mine. And mine tastes are definitely skewed towards less spices and more pumpkin. During the last month I've tasted about 15 different pumpkin beverages and found almost all tilted to the spicy-sweet side - sort of like biting into a store brought pumpkin pie with loads of nutmeg or clove.  Instead I prefer a beer with either a balanced ratio between spices and pumpkin or one that leans completely towards pumpkin.

That being said, my habitual favorite is the King of pumpkin beers, the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Punkin Ale. Probably the first I ever sampled and ever since I've counted on this beer to deliver a consistent and equal balance between spices and meat. And every year Dogfish Head delivers. Another beer I crave during the Fall is the Epic Brewing Company - DC Brau Brewing collaboration -- Fermentation Without Representation Imperial Pumpkin Porter. This is another balanced composition of coffee, chocolate, pumpkin, and spices blended to form a perfect morning brew. The newest surprise was the Uinta Brewing Punk'n, a beer that displays very little spicy character, but instead a strong and tasty pumpkin flavor. There is no doubt I could consume many of these in our sitting. Finally, the one beverage that breaks my profile generalization is the Ace Cider Hard Pumpkin Cider. This is a sweeter cider with plenty of spices and it does taste exactly like apple pumpkin pie. Treat it like a slice of pie - I could only consume one pint at a time, but those with a sweater tooth - go for it.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Blind Tasting Grower Champagne at MacArthur Beverages

Last week I was fortunate to be invited to a blogger's tasting at arguably the best wine shop in the District of Columbia, MacArthur Beverages. Not only does the store have a tremendous wine and spirits inventory, its also a nice commute - traversing Key Bridge, Georgetown University, the Reservoir, and returning on Chain Bridge. The topic for this evening's tasting was Brut Grower Champagne - aka - estate driven champagne focusing on a particular estate or vineyard.  And we tasted blind so that we weren't influenced by a particular Champagne house's reputation. This mode made that tasting quite interesting. The first list are my tasting notes; followed by the revealing.

1. Yeasty aroma citrus and grassy
2. Funky aroma - celery
3. Easy drinking - reminds of Furmint - balanced
4. Oaky green apple, longer finish even some citrus
5. Fruity aroma - acidic sweeter aroma & finish
6. Punch in the face - intense. But, finish falls off.
7. Easy drinking; doesn't jump out
8. Jammy cherry plum dried fruit toasty 

1. nv Dosnon & Lepage Brut ($40)
2. nv Louis Roederer Brut Premiere ($40)
3. nv L. Aubry Fils Brut Premier Cru ($40)
4. nv Pierre Peters Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Cuvee de Reserve ($50)
5. 2007 Vilmart & Cie Brut Grand Cellier D'Or ($70)
6. 2010 Cedric Bouchard (Inflorescence) Brut Blanc de Noirs Val Vilaine ($60)
7. nv Dosnon & Lepage Brut Rose ($45)
8. nv Pascal Doquet Brut Rose ($50)
My favorite was #4 the Pierre Peters Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Cuvee de Reserve and I found #3 the  L. Aubry Fils Brut Premier Cru very interesting - perhaps because of the 50% Pinot Meunier. Many of my associates preferred #5 the 2007 Vilmart & Cie Brut Grand Cellier D'Or but there was enough funkiness that threw me off.  The rest were generally tasty and easy to drink, except for the  Louis Roederer Brut Premier which had a strong vegetable - celery profile that forced an early dump.

Thanks to Phil and the MacArthur staff for the hospitality and also for a nice tasting of Highland Park Scotch - the 15 year was smooth, lightly peaty, sherry-ish finish -> basically pretty awesome. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Football & Beer at Fire Station 1 Brewing Company

This weekend I met my parents at their Silver Spring office and we decided to watch a few football games at a new brewpub that opened down the street: Fire Station 1 Brewing Company.  The operation is the work of retired firefighter Jeremy Gruber, who incidentally started his career at Fire Station 1, then purchased the old firehouse when the department moved across Georgia Avenue. As you would expect, there are plenty of historical information about the Silver Spring fire department as well as fresh Maryland brewed beer.

On this day there were two Fire Station 1 brews on tap, the Daily Crisis IPA and Something Red. Neither of these were flashy or extraordinary; the IPA was paler than most and contrarily the amber ale could have used a little more hops. (My Father had no problems with either - so maybe my beer geekiness is showing.) But supplemented with a few beers from Baltimore's Heavy Seas Brewing Company there was more than enough local beers for me - plus plenty of television sets to watch every football game - sort of like being in Vegas. The photo on the right show's their page on theCompass. Cheers to Gruber and Fire Station 1.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

2007 Imagine Wine Pearl Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon

Perfect timing, the day I received the November 15th Wine Spectator, which includes an article on Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon , I received a bottle of the 2007 Imagine Wine Pearl Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($39) as part of the Imagine Wine 2007 Winged Paradise Mountain Syrah Release Night.  As further evidence of winemaker Ross Rankin's belief in long oak treatments, before bottling, this wine was aged 36 months in a combination of French, Hungarian, and American oak. The result is actually a much smoother wine than anticipated, full of dark fruit , velvety texture, and the light tannins indicate a very smooth finish. An extremely pleasant wine.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Ace Pumpkin Hard Cider - Apple Pumpkin Pie in a bottle

Apple Pumpkin Pie in a bottle; that's the Ace Cider seasonal offering: Pumpkin Hard Cider. The cider is made moderately sweet with plenty of pumpkin, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.  Yet it is quite balanced between apple and pumpkin flavor  and the apple's inherent acidity subdues the sweetness. Quite tasty, although even at only 5% alcohol, one glass was enough per sitting. Cheers.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Imagine Wine 2007 Winged Paradise Mountain Syrah Release Night

This past Friday night, October 13th, I was fortunate to participate in a special #winechat featuring Imagine Wine and their '07 Winged Paradise Mountain Syrah ($80). While proprietor Ross Rankin hosted a release party at the Santa Ynez tasting room, about a dozen bloggers from across the U.S. joined Twitter and\or Skype to taste and discuss the wine. During the evening we learned more about Rankin, and his wife Lyn Dee; the Paradise Mountain Vineyard and Syrah; as well as Rankin's transparency in describing his winemaking process.

Paradise Mountain Vineyard looking North
- photo courtesy of Imagine Wine
The Rankins started the winery in 2004 and Ross received wine-making experience through stints at several Santa Ynez wineries.  Eventually they purchased the land that would become Paradise Mountain Vineyard (just off Highway 154 in the Rancho San Luis Rey), which is now planted with 7 acres of Viognier and 12 acres of Syrah. And to produce Winged Paradise Mountain Syrah, Rankin utilizes several unorthodox techniques. The grape is harvested with low acidity (high PH) which  would normally be problematic during fermentation because it leads to increased risk of oxidation and bacterial
Syrah grapes looking East
- photo courtesy of Imagine Wine
growth. Yet, Ross is able to ferment this Syrah for almost a month, whereas normal fermentation usually occurs within one to two weeks. Because of the high PH, the wine does not get bitter during this longer fermentation and instead, according to Rankin, "pulls flavor, color, and also macerates the grapes in such a way that it produces an unfiltered wine that is 'heavy' and particle laden". The fermented wine is then aged in a combination of oak treatments and remained in barrel until the recent bottling. This multi-year storage added $12,000 to the production costs and accounts for much of the $80 price tag.

07 Winged Paradise Mountain Syrah
- photo courtesy of Imagine Wine
I opened the 07 Winged Paradise Mountain Syrah about 30 minutes prior the release party, an act I could have conducted even earlier. The Syrah definitely needed time to breathe, and over the course of the night exuded different characteristics in the nose and finish. It started out a fruit forward wine in the nose in the palette with a dark berry (blueberry & blackberry) characters and a hot finish (16% alcohol) with plenty of acid - even with the high PH - and plenty of spices. Over time, chocolate flavors emerged in the nose and palette and the alcohol and acids receded in the tail, although the spicy finish remained. Some of us agreed that the finish resembled a Paso Robles styled Zinfandel, and from a previous #winestudio chat, the finish seemed to me to resemble a Croatian Plavac Mali.  In total, this is a well made wine and in the words of MyVineSpot: "Good concentration of fruit, depth and length. Round around the edges and handles the 15.5% well."

"Winged Series 2" Sculpture
- photo courtesy of Imagine Wine

The label is also worth mentioning as it is based on the “Winged Series 2” sculpture created by Rankin's son Blake in his Santa Barbara Rankin Sculpture studio. Pretty cool; made from marble imported from Carrera Italy.  Cheers to the wine making and sculpting Rankin family. Oh, and thanks for the 2007 Imagine Wine Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon (review coming later).

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Crispin - The Saint: A Trappist Cider

I was pleasantly surprised with the Crispin - The Saint. The Trappist beer yeast masks the apples in the nose; with the apple flavor appearing in the mid palette. The maple syrup makes its presence known in the finish - balanced with  rustic apple flavors. Would like a little more effervescence, but great value cider.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Salta, Argentina: more grapes (Torrontés) with altitude and attitude

Recently I enjoyed this Yauquen Torrontés from Bodega Ruca Malen and didn't recognize the Salta region of Argentina. Mendoza yes, Salta no.   The area is located in the northwestern portion of the country bordering Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay and consists of three main viticulture areas: Cafayate, Santa María and Colomé. In the valleys, olives, maize, and tobacco dominate the landscape, yet vineyards appear once the elevation produces cooler nights to offset the brutal daily heat. And eventually, these mountainous regions hosts some of the highest vineyards in the world, ranging from 5,000 to 6,500 feet above sea level - similar to some of the highest vineyards in Colorado. However, for the most extreme, head to Bodega Colomé and their Altura Máxima vineyard which resides at 10,027 feet above sea level. Oxygen mask anyone?

As the picture suggests, Torrontés is the jewel of Salta - and represents its largest planted grape variety - although in total - this area produces less than 2% to total Argentinean wine production. Because of it's elevation, Torrontés from Salta are known for their inherent acidity as well as what a read, a "perfumed" aroma. The Yauquen displayed this acidity with less "perfume" and more citrus aroma and flavor. Great value at $12 particularly when acknowledging the transportation costs down the mountains. Looking forward to visiting one day. Cheers.

Friday, October 4, 2013

What are the Best Wine, Beer, & Distillery Mobile Applications?

theCompass theCompass iPhone
While designing theCompass Alcohol Locator, we downloaded several other similar Android mobile apps to research the strengths and deficiencies of the current market. These mobile apps can be divided into two categories; (1) those that function as cellar inventories and tasting notes repositories and (2) those that are a compendium of wineries, breweries, or attempt to locate wine or beer in a specific area or establishment.

Some applications attempt to provide functionality within both categories, but often fail to provide adequate service in both. For instance, I utilize Untapped, an application that does well in letting users review beers but suffers in locating craft beers in your area. This is a result of utilizing crowd sourcing, where their data is populated by users and not the establishments. The crowd sourcing option is easy to implement on the application side, but for the user the result is incomplete or outdated information. On the other hand, establishment applications, such as Lost Dog Cafe or World of Beer provide real time tapped information.

Many of the best locator applications are specific to a region or establishment - such as the two listed above. Many states, regions, and enterprising companies have created applications designed for a specific geographic area that provide comprehensive information on their wineries or breweries. Two examples are Virginia Wine In My Pocket and Finger Lakes Wine Country. For me, the deficiencies in these applications are the result of their greatest strength -> they focus on one region, so if you plan on traveling to multiple regions, you must install multiple applications on your device. The one comprehensive wine application that we found was the America's Wine Trail app that provides excellent information by state, but not by geo-location. Thus if you are visiting Washington D.C., the application will provide information separately for Maryland and Virginia but not a combined view.  Our video on traveling to Bristol Virginia\Tennessee for the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion illustrates this concept.

And finally, these applications are segregated by industry - there are wine apps and there are beer apps. But do any combine wineries, breweries, cideries, and distilleries into a single app? Hence, theCompass. As we keep developing and improving theCompass we hope that it alleviates the deficiencies found in the mobile application wine and beer locator market. Cheers

Here's a few to checkout: