Saturday, April 27, 2013

Learning About #Biodynamic #Gruner #Wine from Austria During #Winechat

This past week I was invited to participate in a tasting of four biodynamic, Gruner Veltliner wines from Austria for the weekly #winechat discussion. Gruner and Austrian wine has been high on my radar, but biodynamic - not so much. I'm familiar with the concepts, but not the theories or practical applications. And the practical applications and preparations that a vineyard must undergo in order to be certified as Biodynamic by the Demeter classification system can be quite bizarre. Here's one take from the San Francisco Weekly.  Another set of practices involve celestial movements. For instance, wine is racked on a descending moon because it is thought that more aromas are lost during a fuller or higher standing moon. Other lunar practices are listed here.  But the main focus for biodynamic should be the beneficial vineyard practices, using manure instead of chemicals; using composts; using natural insectacides - all which must have a positive impact on the vineyard and the surrounding countryside. And apparently, organic and biodynamic farming is quite popular in Austria with organic farming accounting for 20% of total grape production - the highest in Europe.

But for me, the primary concern was the wine, and in my opinion, they were quite good. We started with the Meinklang Burg White ($15), a blend of  Welschriesling, Gruener Veltliner, and Muscat Ottonel. The grapes were harvested from the eastern side of Lake Neusiedl, technically the Neusiedlersee in Burgenland. All these wines were produced using natural yeasts, so the aromas come from the vineyard as well as the Mucat for this wine - floral-citrus, long and powerful. This is a refreshing wine, citrus flavors and even a bright mid that transitions naturally to the finish. 

The next wine was the Nikolaihof Wachau Hefeabzug ($28), 100% Gruner grown in the Wachau region - located west of Vienna and perhaps the best known region for Gruner Veltliner.  This wine possesses a creamy texture a result of neutral oak treatment as well as six months on their lees. It also displays earthy-hay characteristics which intertwine with a lemon citrus nose and peach flavors. An excellent wine.

The Wimmer-Czerny Fumberg came to us from Wagram/Donauland, also in Lower Austria, just north-west of Vienna. The wine is spicier than the previous with a citrus - almost pinesol-ish aroma -  some pear-ish minerality on the palette, before finishing with a short dose of acidity. Very different than the previous - but in a good way.

We completed the night with the Sepp Moser Grüner Veltliner Schnabel 2011($27).  The grapes were also harvested from vineyards in Lower Austria - this time surrounding Krems or the Kremstal region. The winery is named for Sepp Moserl, son of legendary Dr. Lenz Moser, and now managed by Sepp's son  Nikolaus. I nice lineage there; in fact the Mosel family has been producing wine since 1848 so years of knowledge are handed down to successive generations. The nose is all floral and big, with the flavor starting as citrus, then moving to a more spicy, creamy character to finish with roasted nuts on the finish. Could be the biggest Gruner I've tasted: full of flavor, mineral depth, and a long finish. Savory is the word. I great finish to the evening. Cheers

Thursday, April 25, 2013

American Craft Beer Week® 2013: Toasts the Red, White and Brew

Now that Savor has moved to NYC, American Craft Beer Week® is my favorite time to celebrate craft beer.And now that I'm a member of the Brewer's Association I need to spread the gospel. So make plans for May 13-19, I may be heading to Frederick, Maryland for the Brewers Association of MD "Maryland Craft Beer Festival".

Celebrations Expected in All 50 States from May 13-19

Boulder, COApril 25, 2013—From May 13-19, craft beer connoisseurs and beginners alike will come together for the eighth annual celebration of American Craft Beer Week (ACBW). With the tagline “Big Week, Small Breweries,” ACBW is an opportunity to toast the more than 2,400 small and independent American craft brewers who continue to make the U.S. the world’s most diverse brewing destination. Once again, ACBW celebrations are expected to be held across all 50 states.

“The popularity of American Craft Beer Week is indicative of the craft beer renaissance that continues to captivate the U.S.,” said Julia Herz, publisher of and craft beer program director at the Brewers Association. “This week is about uniting for a common cause: support and celebration of our nation’s small and independent brewers and the millions of beer lovers who have helped evolve an industry and put the U.S. on the brewing map.”

New for 2013 is the American Craft Beer Week Coast to Coast Toast. For the first time ever, ACBW will be commemorated by a simultaneous toast. At 8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT on Thursday, May 16, small brewers and craft beer lovers nationwide will raise a glass of their favorite craft brewed beer to toast ACBW and the delicious beer that it celebrates. To find a toast location near you, visit the official American Craft Beer Week events page, hosted by

Untappd, the mobile-based social network that connects breweries with craft beer lovers, is also offering an American Craft Beer Week Badge for users who check-in during ACBW events.

Additionally, craft beer fans from across the country can sign the American Craft Beer Week Manifesto, pledging their support to craft beer and their love for “the artisans who approach their craft with originality, dedication and passion.” From tap takeovers and tasting tours to food pairings and festivals, ACBW will be celebrated in many ways across the U.S. To find a local celebration, event or promotion, visit the above-mentioned ACBW events page.  A selection of scheduled 2013 celebrations includes:

American Craft Beer Week National Toast

Craft Beer Festivals
3rd Annual Ameri-CAN Canned Craft Beer Festival; Scottsdale, AZ
HopFest Kansas City 2013; Kansas City, MO

Food and Beer Events
American Craft Beer Week – Spokane Style!
; Spokane, WA

State and Regional Beer Weeks Also Happening During ACBW
Chicago Craft Beer Week

Find an expanded list of U.S. beer weeks and join the conversation on Twitter with #ACBW.

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About the Brewers Association

The Brewers Association is the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers, their craft beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts. The Brewers Association (BA) represents more than 70 percent of the brewing industry, and its members make more than 99 percent of the beer brewed in the U.S. The BA organizes events including the World Beer Cup®Great American Beer Festival®Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America®SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience and American Craft Beer Week®. The BA publishes The New Brewer magazine and its Brewers Publications division is the largest publisher of contemporary and relevant brewing literature for today's craft brewers and homebrewers.

Beer lovers are invited to learn more about the dynamic world of craft beer at and about homebrewing via the BA's American Homebrewers Association. Follow us on Twitter.

The Brewers Association is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital/familial status. The BA complies with provisions of Executive Order 11246 and the rules, regulations, and relevant orders of the Secretary of Labor.

Monday, April 22, 2013

What is the best First Communion Beer?

What is the best First Communion Beer? That's the question I posed to myself while exploring Norm's Beer & Wine for beer for Matthew's First Communion after party. Since Lebanese food was dominating the menu, the obvious choice was Almaza Pilsner Beer - Lebanan's best selling beer. Assisted by brewers in Pilsen, the brewery created a Czech styled recipe with a local twist - incorporating maize that gives the beer a smooth and sweet profile. This creates an appealing beer when several types of beer drinkers are present - and a much better option than the mass produced junk.

For the more serious beer drinkers I turned to the Saints, St. George Brewing Company from Hampton Virginia and the esteemed Belgium brewery St. Bernardus. Norm's had just received a shipment of the Abt 12, the top tier in the St. Bernardus brand, high in alcohol 10.5% and full bodied - but extremely smooth. Tons of fruit flavor exude from the nose through the tail. I chose the St. George English IPA knowing I would have a few hop heads in attendance - although at 50 IBU it was mild for many.  The profile is sweet with a balanced somewhat hoppy finish. I was ready to leave, but then noticed the Highland Brewing Company St. Theresa Pale Ale. being very fond of the Asheville, NC - I plucked a six-pack without thinking. For a pale ale, this has the aroma of an IPA, plenty of citrus that transitions to sweet male, and then finishes again with a citrus profile. A very nice ale.

So that was our day - plenty of good beer for a First Communion theme. Cheers.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ecuadorean Surprise: Zhumir Maracuyá

Anyone ever tried a Zhumir product from Ecuador? Their flagship brand is SECO made from sugar cane juice - which is harvested in the company's plantations in the Paute Valley in south-center Ecuador. SECO shouldn't be confused with rum, it has more of a cachaça flavor and I've enjoyed on the rocks or as a part of a home grown Caipirinh. This weekend we have out-of-town guests and one just happen to bring a bottle of Zhumir Maracuyá, a flavored SECO. Maracuyá translates to passion fruit, so this liquor is slightly sweet with a citrus-mango flavor. It is smooth - very smooth and I preferred neat rather than on the rocks; seems like the water exposes even more sweetness. And I'm sure mixologists would be able to concoct several interesting recipes. Here's to experimenting....

Thursday, April 18, 2013

#DLW13 - What's the Best Wine Grape for Maryland?

Last weekend I was fortunate to be included in a two day celebration of local wine, particularly, Maryland wine, at the 2013 Drink Local Wine Conference. During these two days of tours, tasting, and seminars; a common question was posed: "what is the best wine grape for Maryland?". That's a tough question considering the diversity of wine we sampled; from traditional Bordeaux varieties, to Chambourcin and Vidal, Chardonnay and Chardonel, Pinot Grigio and Noir, Albarino and Syrah, Sangiovese and Zinfandel, Gruner and Gewurztraminer and even Pinotage and Barbera. And that's not even listing blends.

During one seminar, Al Spoler, co-host of Cellar Notes, stated that Maryland should follow the road of Oregon (Pinot Noir), New Zealand (Sauvignon Blanc), and Virginia (Viognier) and hang its hat on Cabernet Franc.  And I tasted several tasty Cab Francs over the course of the weekend, in particular from Boordy Vineyards, Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, and Old Westminster Winery. Heck, Thanksgiving Farm even poured a white Cabernet Franc - made in the saignee style with all pigment removed. I would say Cabernet Franc has a future in the state.

However, during the next panel, Ed Boyce, from Black Ankle Vineyards, disagreed stressing that Maryland's best grape is a red blend, particularly when the state experiences unusual weather. Just look at 2011 when an "unscheduled irrigation event" occurred and most wineries experienced over 25 consecutive days of rain from late August through September. In these situations, Boyce believes the sub-par grapes can be blended and "declassified" into a lesser brand so that quantity becomes the problem, not quality. On the other hand, when conditions are more Californian, then the grapes can be blended into a reserve classification. And we tasted quite a few fabulous blends, starting with the standard portfolio from Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard (EVOE, Circe, Comus) and Black Ankle Vineyards (Crumbling Rock & Rolling Hills) to the Landmark Series from Boordy Vineyards (harvested from the Piedmont's South Mountain), the Thanksgiving Farm Meritage, and Big Cork Vineyards future wines. There's no doubt that red wine blends are solid offerings in the Free State. 

But there are other red varietal wines worth noting. Boordy and Black Ankle bother offer excellent Syrah and then there's the old champion Chambourcin. The Fiore Winery Reserve Chambourcin was the first Maryland wine I ever tasted - at least a dozen years ago - and today is still a favorite. I think I was one of a couple people who voted for it in the Twitter taste-off. Let's not forget the Knob Hall Winery Chambourcin and on two occasions our group was poured the Port of Leonardtown Winery Chambourcin and just as tasty as the Fiore.

Then there's the suggestions from Dr. Joe Fiola (UofM) who, for the past decade, has been assisting Maryland vineyards determine which grapes best suit their site. (Here's a brief video of his presentation.) For the the warmer southern region, where the diurnal fluctuation may reach a lackluster 15 degrees in the summer, he suggests southern Spanish and Italian varieties that are characterized by higher acids and tannins. One of these was the Slack Winery Barbera - a juicy, yet silky wine - as well as the Woodhall Wine Cellars Pinotage, harvested from the Schmidt Vineyard in the Eastern Shore, and more pinot than "tage" - very smooth. 

What about the  white wines?  Black Ankle wowed us with their Gruner Veltliner and Albarino. I look forward to trips to the beach to grab some Bordeleau Pinot Grigio or I'll just travel closer to home for some from SMV. Chardonnay is a stable in all Maryland regions as we tasted several very nice brands; and where that grape can't grow, Slack Winery proved that Chardonnel is a decent alternative. Port of Leonardtown also poured a refreshingly acidic dry Vidal and another favorites was the Gewurztraminer from Elk Run Vineyards.

So which grape may be the best wine grape for Maryland?  I don't know; maybe its this diversity which will strengthen and expand the industry. Or maybe its none of these grapes at all. We tasted several experimental wines being produced from Dr. Joe's research vineyards which included Colombard, Marsanne, Verdejo, Barbera, and most interesting a slew of hybrids from the former Soviet Union. These cold hardy grapes were actually planted in his southern Maryland vineyard and showed some promising results. Maybe the future of Maryland wine is SK 7753 or  SK 771099. Here's Dr. Joe leading us through a tasting of these wines.

Drink Local Wine Session IV: Tasting Maryland's Future

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Plenty of #mdwine to sample at #dlw13

I'm looking forward to heading to Baltimore for the 2013 DrinkLocalWine Conference Friday and spent some time last night reviewing past posts on Maryland Wine, particularly The Wine Grapes of Maryland (a little outdated) as well as our trips to Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard and Old Westminster.  And looking at this map reminds me that Maryland is home to several excellent breweries in addition to Blackwater Distilling. Hope to be able to taste these as well over the weekend.

Participating wineries and wines I hope they are pouring:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Google Mapping: To Cluster or Not to Cluster

I've been making progress with the Android version of the WineCompass mobile application and have implemented the major search features - by location, zip code, and state. Each establishment is display on a Google map with its marker corresponding to its category - winery, brewery, and distillery.  The last major decision I need to make is how to show markers for populous states such as California, Oregon, and Washington.  Should I just map each location as in Figure 1? Or is that too busy and instead, should I implement clusters, where clicking on a particularly cluster zooms the mapping coordinates to that location? See Figure 2. Once again I would appreciate your thoughts.

Figure 1.
Figure 2.

Update: Based on a wise suggestion, I am creating a preference so that a user can select which option they prefer, cluster or marker:


Friday, April 5, 2013

North American Wine Roads - Virginia - Route 211 Wine Trail

This week's North American Wine Trails post comes from Kurt Jenson and his Wine About Virginia blog on a new wine trail in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Well, the unofficial Route 211 wine way is now "official."  The web site for the Rt 211 Scenic Vino Wine Trail is up and running, even though some of the wineries are not. 

Members of the 211 Wine Trail are Unicorn, Magnolia (open Summer 2013), Gray Ghost, Narmada, Gadino Cellars, Little Washington Winery, Quievremont, and the Copper Fox Distillery.

While most of the wineries should be familiar to regular readers of this blog, there are two new names in the member winery list of the RT 211 Wine Trail.  Magnolia Vineyards facilities are currently under construction, but they are now on their 5th season of growing vines on their property and they are currently making wines at other wineries.  Their 2011 vintage wines will be available for sale available in their tasting room once they are licensed and open. 

Quievremont is located at the center of center of Reality Farm.  Their website says that their 2012 wines should be ready in May 2013.  I noticed in an add that they will be at Vintage Virginia this year.

To finish reading about the 211 Scenic Vino Wine Trail, visit New Nothern Virginia Wine Trail.