Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Tale of Two Tequilas: Mañana & Don Nacho

In between tasting wine, we've been toasting to tequila - in particular two Blanco - 100% agave tequilas with two completely different tasting profiles: the Tequila Mañana ($40) & Don Nacho Silver ($25).  The Mañana is a premium tequila from Distillery Feliciano Vivanco y Asociados NOM 1414and the brand is named after the Don Panchito legend. When asked when he was going to bring the tequila out of the barrels, Don Pancho Vidal would respond: "Mañana (tomorrow), mañana, will be the day."  This is a light tequila, very smooth - with some creaminess. The nose is citrus, but the flavor resembles caramelized sugar, with only a very slight hint of agave. Almost too slight.

On the other hand, the Don Nacho exudes agave, from the nose to the tail. The family owned distillery uses their own agave farm located in the Jalisco region. It shares a similar citrus nose as the Mañana, but with a shorter finish and less texture. The burn is short, leaving pure agave in the throat. In general, not a bad tequila.

The Mañana is easily, and as expected, the better of the two, but for my tastes, not by much. I miss the agave flavor in the Manana and wish the Don Nacho possessed a little more texture and creaminess. Hopefully I can find the premium Don Nacho soon to compare that to the Mañana. Cheers.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Get Ready for DLW 2013 - Coming Soon to Maryland Wine Country

The fifth annual Drink Local Wine conference will be held this April13, 2013 in Baltimore Maryland, focusing on that state's growing wine industry. DLW 2013 will include seminars showcasing Maryland and regional wine as well as the Maryland Twitter Taste-off, featuring two dozen of the state’s best wineries. The Maryland Winery Association is the primary sponsor for the conference and according to Kevin Atticks, the Maryland Wine Association’s executive director, “We're growing a world of wine styles and varieties throughout Maryland, and we're excited to share them through Drink Local Wine”.  And yes, they are growing; the number of wineries now stand at 61- almost 50 percent more than in 2010. And the grape varieties planted are extremely diverse, from European vinifera, to the French-hybrids, to native labrusca. In fact Mr. Atticks informs us that there are more than 90 grape varieties grown in the state. According to our WineCompass database vinifera is the most popular with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and Merlot leading the field. Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin, and Seyval Blanc are the most popular hybrids with a few instance of Concord and Niagara representing labrusca grapes. There's even some Blaufrankisch, Norton, Riesling, and Italian varieties such as Barbera, Sangiovese, and Montepulciano.

The Free State consists of four main grape growing regions - the Piedmont Plateau, Eastern Shore, Southern Plain, & Western Mountains. Each region is diverse and hosts a different assortment of grapes - from the more cold hardy variety in the Western Mountains to those that flourish with the strong diurnal fluctuations in the Eastern Shore. The Piedmont Plateau and Southern Plain seem to be the most populous regions and host several wine trails for visitors.  The Piedmont Plateau encompasses a large area from the base of the Catoctin Mountains to the west to the head of the Chesapeake Bay. The rolling hills are reminiscent of horse country within Virginia's new Middleburg AVA. The Southern Plain is hot and humid and this is where the Mediterranean varieties excel particularly where the sandy soils can limit yields.

We've visited many of the wineries in these regions through WineCompass, MyJoogTV, and even VirginiaWineTV. And on each visit have been impressed with the wines as well as the dedication and enthusiasm of the winemakers. In the coming weeks we plan to showcase Maryland's wine trails and wines - starting with an old video of Ed Boyce co-owner of Black Ankle Vineyards - discussing why many of us consider him the premier winemaker in the state. Hope to see you in Baltimore on the 13th.

MyJoogTV Episode 3: Uncle Dave Huber at Black Ankle Vineyards from MyJoogTV on Vimeo.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Maker's Listens to Prevailing Winds, Reverses Course

We posted last week on Maker's Mark decision to meet increased demand by changing their recipe by diluting their whiskey. Apparently feedback was not very positive and the distillery has changed course. Good for them. I personally think there were better solutions - perhaps raising the price while simultaneously introducing a smaller bottle?  In any case, as one LinkedIn commenter noted, "but I greatly appreciate the company's openness and honesty with their customers. How many beverage makers do you know have changed the formula of their product and didn't bother telling the public?" I agree with that sentiment. Here's a letter from Chief Operating Officer, Rob Samuels:
Dear Ambassador,

Since we announced our decision last week to reduce the alcohol content (ABV) of Maker’s Mark in response to supply constraints, we have heard many concerns and questions from our ambassadors and brand fans. We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Maker’s Mark. While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.

You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.

So effective immediately, we are reversing our decision to lower the ABV of Maker’s Mark, and resuming production at 45% alcohol by volume (90 proof). Just like we’ve made it since the very beginning.

The unanticipated dramatic growth rate of Maker’s Mark is a good problem to have, and we appreciate some of you telling us you’d even put up with occasional shortages. We promise we'll deal with them as best we can, as we work to expand capacity at the distillery.

Your trust, loyalty and passion are what’s most important. We realize we can’t lose sight of that. Thanks for your honesty and for reminding us what makes Maker’s Mark, and its fans, so special.

We’ll set about getting back to bottling the handcrafted bourbon that our father/grandfather, Bill Samuels, Sr. created. Same recipe. Same production process. Same product.

As always, we will continue to let you know first about developments at the distillery. In the meantime please keep telling us what’s on your mind and come down and visit us at the distillery. It means a lot to us.


Rob Samuels
Chief Operating Officer
What do you think? Will diluting the whiskey change your preference? Would it make more sense to use market forces and raise the price slightly in order to decrease demand. And not diluting.

The United Grapes of America - Kansas - Davenport Winery Matrot Norton

When regularly traveling to Overland Park, Kansas - many years ago, I settled Holy-Field Vineyard & Winery and Davenport Winery at least once a month. Holy-Field was easiest to reach, situated not far from Interstates 70 and 435 and on course to the airport. Davenport, on the other hand, required a special trip to Lawrence, about 30 miles away. Fortunately, owner Greg Sipes accommodated my schedule by hosting regular business hours until 7PM on Wednesdays - lucky me. Like their neighbors in Missouri, Kansas wine consumers enjoy a good Norton and a couple Kansas wineries such as Davenport comply. Sipes has produced several styles of Norton, with one being the Matrot Norton, named after the Matrot Castle, a Topeka landmark since 1883 and a clandestine Prohibition hangout. Davenport Winery now operates a satellite tasting facility from the castle.
into a routine where I would visit both

The United Grapes of America
StarChefs.com: The United Grapes of America
Returning to the Matrot Norton, it was made from Kansas grown grapes and aged in used whiskey casks.  I purchased this non-vintage wine in 2006, so it has had six and a half years to mature in bottle. My Missouri friends tell me that you should never open a Norton before three years in the bottle, so this wine should be primed.  The nose starts with an interesting combination of grape (almost concord-ish) and leather, followed by creamy vanilla cherry on the palette. The grapiness completely subsides resembling more of a Cabernet Franc profile particularly with the spicy, green peppery finish. And no trace of the whiskey. Not bad at all and at, I believe $15, easy on the wallet. Also pairs well with leftover Valentine's Day chocolate.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

North American Wine Roads - Texas - Thirsty Oaks Wine Trail

Due to the popularity of our listing of North American Wine Trails & Regions, we've decided to expand this topic by enlisting the help of regional experts to describe the wine trails in their local. Our first guest writer is Jeff Cope, the Texas Wine Lover, who recently traveled the Thirsty Oaks Wine Trail.
We were invited to spend the weekend at the winery The Vineyard at Florence by our friends Mike and Carol. We gladly accepted the offer and we all tried to determine what other wineries were nearby. After looking at the map, I thought why not look to see what wine trails The Vineyard at Florence was on and it turned out to be the Thirsty Oaks Wine Trail. The wine trail includes four wineries: The Vineyard at Florence, Inwood Estates Vineyards, Perissos Vineyard and Winery, and Pilot Knob Vineyard. That turned out to be our scheduled plan.

Since we would be staying at The Vineyard at Florence villas, we decided to start at the furthest winery which was Perissos Vineyards. Since Mike and Carol would be staying until Monday and we had to leave on Sunday, we met at Perissos when it opened. Owner/winemaker Seth Martin soon greeted us and gave us a tour of the winery starting at the estate vineyard.

Perissos - awards

We had enjoyed a previous vineyard tour with Seth when they were giving free tours last year so we remembered most of what he told Mike and Carol, but with just the way Seth shows his enthusiasm about growing grapes, it is always enjoyable listening to him. He explained how they are adding another three acres of vines in April which will include Petite Sirah and Malbec. Seth described how he developed his own trellis system for the vines so everything is done at eye level instead of being lower which requires bending over or higher which eventually hurts your shoulders. Another thing Seth does differently than most other wineries is determining when to pick the grapes. Instead of relying on brix, pH, or acid to decide when to pick, he lets his tasting of the grapes determine it. He explained after the brix level is reached, the flavor of the grapes come through at that point, and that is when he prefers to pick just before they eventually would turn into raisins.
Perissos - Seth Martin
Seth Martin
We then headed back into the winery to do a tasting of the wines. During the tasting, we were fortunate to do a tasting of the 2012 Viognier which would be bottled in three days. Again we were very lucky to have a vertical tasting of Perissos Tempranillos. These included the 2009 Tempranillo which is a blend of 50% Tempranillo and 50% Touriga Nacional, 2010 which is 80% Tempranillo and 20% Touriga Nacional, and the 2011 which is 90% Tempranillo and 10% Touriga Nacional. The overall favorite from the group was the 2011 which had the higher percentage of Tempranillo.

To finish reading about the trip, visit Road Trip to the Thirsty Oaks Wine Trail.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cakebread Cellars 2008 Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon

Our final wine from the comp December Wine Chateau shipment was the Cakebread Cellars 2008 Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon ($85). Now, we have been long time fans of the Cakebread Chardonnay but, for some reason, have never tried any of their cabs. The Benchland Select is sourced from the their Hill Ranch vineyard in Rutherford (57%) and vineyards in the Oakville appellation (43%).  In 2008, the Hill Ranch suffered through early season frost so yields were low - resulting in very concentrated fruit. The juice was fermented in various tank sizes and then aged 22 months in French oak barrels, with almost half in new barrels. The wine starts a little hot on the nose, in which the alcohol eventually dissipates to reveal dark berries and leather. Tart blackberries surface in the palette with a creamy texture and bits of cocoa. The tannins are subtle, creating a fruit forward, easy drinking wine, closer to a pinot than a big Napa cab. To reach its full potential, the wine may need another year in bottle, but this is one that we finished rather quickly. And the 2009 has now been released, so you have two vintages to choose from. Cheers. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Maker's Mark Scrambles to Satisfy Demand by Diluting?

Maker's Mark has always been successful not only because of their unique red wax seal but also from their unique recipe which combines  red winter wheat with the traditional barley and corn. This demand has increased to the point where the distillery had to modify the final alcohol by volume in order to increase production to satisfy there thirsty customers. Apparently,  the Maker's unique flavor was not sacrificed. Really? Here's a letter from Chief Operating Officer, Rob Samuels:

Dear Maker’s Mark® Ambassador,

Lately we’ve been hearing from many of you that you’ve been having difficulty finding Maker’s Mark in your local stores.  Fact is, demand for our bourbon is exceeding our ability to make it, which means we’re running very low on supply. We never imagined that the entire bourbon category would explode as it has over the past few years, nor that demand for Maker’s Mark would grow even faster.

We wanted you to be the first to know that, after looking at all possible solutions, we’ve worked carefully to reduce the alcohol by volume (ABV) by just 3%. This will enable us to maintain the same taste profile and increase our limited supply so there is enough Maker’s Mark to go around, while we continue to expand the distillery and increase our production capacity.

We have both tasted it extensively, and it’s completely consistent with the taste profile our founder/dad/grandfather, Bill Samuels, Sr., created nearly 60 years ago.  We’ve also done extensive testing with Maker’s Mark drinkers, and they couldn’t tell a difference.

Nothing about how we handcraft Maker’s Mark has changed, from the use of locally sourced soft red winter wheat as the flavor grain, to aging the whisky to taste in air-dried American white oak barrels, to rotating our barrels during maturation, to hand-dipping every bottle in our signature red wax.

In other words, we’ve made sure we didn’t screw up your whisky.


Rob Samuels
Chief Operating Officer
What do you think? Will diluting the whiskey change your preference? Would it make more sense to use market forces and raise the price slightly in order to decrease demand. And not diluting.

Update: And Maker's reverses their decision. See letter.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Wines of Santorini...from Assyrtiko to Vinsanto

Wines from Santorini

Santorini, we've all seen photos of the picturous villages and white sandy beaches on this Greek archipelago. But many of us are probably unfamiliar of the rich wine-making tradition (3500 BC) on these islands - particular the main island of Santorini. We were very unfamiliar; until we received a care package of wines from the Wines From Santorini. Here's what we learned.

The current geographic layout of Santorini is the result of a massive volcanic eruption in 1600BC that created the central lagoon and surround islands. The inhabitants were destroyed, but a few vines survived which may be the lineage to the most important indigenous wine grape: Assyrtiko.  Along with Athiri and Aidani, these grapes comprise the majority of Santorini white wines as well as Vinsanto (Italian: "holy wine"). This is a dessert wine made from sun-dried grapes, then aged in barrel; a Mediterranean delicacy for centuries.

Wines from Santorini
Grape growing on Santorini is quite unique. Because of the volcanic eruption, the limestone base is covered with chalk, slate, ash, and lava. This composition helps to create wines with a naturally low pH level and high acidity.  The lack of clay in the soil also creates a natural barrier to the Phylloxera louse which has never ventured onto the island. As a result, the vines are some of the oldest, ungrafted vines in the world. Finally, rainfall is quite rare, but the vines are "watered" at night by a mist that rolls in from the Aegean. The seas also bring heavy winds so the vines are pruned like a cylinder in order to protect the fruit.  The result of this hot, dry, climate is very low yields - averaging 25 hl/ha. And all the wines are protected under the "Santorini" OPAP designations of origin.

The first wine we sampled was the Gavalas Winery 2009 Santorini a 90-10 blend of  Assyrtiko and Aidan. The Gavalas family has been producing wine for three centuries and the grapes from this wine were harvested from the "vineyard of Santorini" that is considered to be the oldest in Greece; perhaps even the world's oldest continually cultivated vineyard.  Pretty amazing. Only 25% of the juice is extracted from the grapes which is then fermented in stainless steel. The wine starts with a citrus aroma mixed in with a slight dose of salty air. The wine  tastes fresh and clean, with hints of minerality and decent acidity.  Very natural and nicely done.

The next wine was the Gaia Estate 2011 Thalassitis, 100% Assytiko. This winery is a youngster in relative terms, having opened in 1994. The owners, Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, started the winery in part to save an old tomato processing plant from being lost to the modern world - i.e tourism. Their Thalassitis (“Thalassitis Oenos” Greek for sea-originated wine) is named for the ancient practice of mixing wine with sea water apparently for therapeutic reasons. Did they know something we are missing today?  Instead the owners of Gaia Estate believe that their proximity to the Aegean Sea creates a similar affect and provides the Thalassitis with a unique flavor. That, and 80-year old vines. The wine is bigger than the Gavalas with even more acidity but with the same mineral and and sea salt characteristics. This is your "Wow" wine, which was simultaneously proclaimed at our table causing a jinx comment from our son. Wow.

Finally, we moved to a vinsanto, the Karamolegos 2005 Vinsanto to be precise - a blend of Assytiko and Aidani. These grapes were sun-dried for twelve days, fermented two months in barrel, followed by two years aging in more oak. The result is a blood orange wine with raisins, honey, nuts, and vanilla popping up at various stages in the palette. The wine is syrupy - but not sickening so - with a long finish that invites you back for more. This is something else. We were first introduced to this style from a Cretan Wine exhibit at the South Beach Wine & Festival years ago and promptly forgot. Not anymore.

Here's to hoping we visit Santorini one day. Cheers.