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: