Thursday, February 27, 2014

New Search Filters added to #theCompassApp Android Mobile Application

Based on customer requests, I have added two new search filters to the Android version of theCompass Mobile Application. Within the Location & Search activity, users can now select from a dropdown whether they would like to (1) Search by zipcode or establishment or city name or (2) Search by location. When selecting the first search criteria, a search box is displayed allowing the user to enter their search term - in this example, the great wine town of Hermann, MO.  In the second criteria, results are returned based on the co-ordinates of the device. The previous functionality remains, where users can then filter the returned result list or map the results. Keep the tips coming and happy travels. Cheers.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Boneyard Wines Take Over #VAWineChat

Last week Tarara Vineyard & Winery winemaker Jordan Harris presented a selection of his new brand, Boneyard Wines to the monthly twitter chat #VAWineChat. These wines diverge from the traditional Tarara brand in that they are more experimental and consist of entry level as well as "uber" luxury options. The labels are very cool - earth movers digging up the boneyard - which respects Tarara's tradition by honoring a field where old wine making and vineyard equipment are sent to rust. The tasting for the evening consisted of the Boneyard 2012 Skins (Rkatsiteli orange wine), the Boneyard Boneyard Bubbles Blanc de Blanc, the Boneyard 2012 Cabernet Franc, and Boneyard 2010 Syrah.

We started with the much anticipated Boneyard 2012 Skins ($20), much anticipated in the sense that I am a deep believer in Rkatsiteli. In order to create an orange wine, the juice was macerated on its skins for 31 days, followed by mild oak treatment. In general, this type of wine possesses a floral aroma, with spicy characters in the palette and finish - with plenty of acidity. Unfortunately, the Boneyard Skins did not live up to my expectations; the floral aroma was present but the wine lacked both acidity and the spicy characters.  Yet, I applaud Jordan for his experiment - keep on digging....

The Bubbles Blanc de Blanc ($35), on the other hand, nailed all expectations. The wine was produced from Chardonnay grapes harvested in 2009 and then vinified using methodoise champagne traditions.  The wine was then bottled aged on its lees for 3 and a half years, developing texture and creaminess, before being disgorged and undergoing secondary fermentation. There sparkling wine is clean, fresh with plenty of effervescence, as well as gentle green apple and citrus flavors. Well done.

Only 26 cases were made from the Boneyard 2012 Cabernet Franc so this wine is only available for Case Club members. The wine spent 12 months in oak and despite the oak, is a medium bodied, fruit forward wine with very smooth tannins. The nose has a little smoke and tobacco, but the palette is a mixture of blackberries and raspberries. I enjoyed this one, but so long - unless I join the Case Club.

We finished with the Boneyard 2010 Syrah ($100) - yes the most expensive Virginia wine to date - more than those from RDV Vineyards.  The Syrah was co-fermented with 6% Viognier and then aged 38 months in oak;  Jordan is a self-described Rhône geek.  Like the Cab Franc, the tannins are smooth - yet the flavor is more plum and finishes with plenty of spice. Like the other wines, this one is closed with the screwcap and it needed to breathe for awhile to allow the Viognier floral notes and fruit to develop. Before breathing, the wine raced straight to the spicy finish. The price point speaks for itself, and we will let buyers express their rational. Cheers.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Rise of Synthethic Corks: Nomacorc - Part I -> The Plant Tour

The last few years have witnessed a debate on the proper wine closures - whether natural cork, synthetic corks, and screw caps. This debate has sometimes been serious, other times completely hysterical - but a debate that will continue indefinitely.  Natural cork, made from the bark of Cork Oaks, remains the traditional closure choice (60%), but carries some baggage in the form of "cork taint" (3% of wines closed with cork are affected by TCA), expense, and uncontrollable rates of oxygen transfer into the wine - at the most extreme leading to oxidized wine.  Screw caps are a rising player and close 27% of wines - all of New Zealands and most from Australia.  I appreciate the portability and ease of opening these closures, but on the flip side there are arguments about how long a wine closed with screw caps can age and since these closures allow practically no oxygen to permeate, these wines are susceptible to reductive attributes. Synthetic corks are the third major player, and whereas we all can agree that the hard injected molded plastic corks are disagreeable, I will feature the world's world's leading producer of synthetic corks, Nomacorc.

Last week Nomacorc hosted myself and five other wine bloggers and writers (Ben Carter, Cath Monahan, Michelle Locke, Luke Whittall, and Mads Jordansen) to their Zebulon, North Carolina plant for a tour and a presentation of their products.We learned quite a handful over these two days, starting with the company's background.  It all started when businessman and wine connoisseur Gert Noël opened several bottles of wine that had been tainted with TCA. With his son Marc, they used their experience in foam extrusion technology to develop a synthetic cork that consists of  a foamed core and an outer skin. Marc officially formed Nomacorc in 1999 as they released their first corc - Classic. Over the years, the company has grown to hold 13% share (2012) of the total wine closure market (2.2 billion corks) while adding several new corcs to their portfolio - all designed to to allow winemakers different options in oxygen transfer rates. This topic requires it's own post - coming soon.  

Our visit began with introductions and an overview by President and CEO Lars von Kantzow. He also described the uniqueness of Nomacorc's corcs.  They are produced by a patented co-extrusion technology where The skin is flexible yet provides a tight neck seal that eliminates leaking and protects the core foam from crumbling. This foam core has a uniform cell structure that provides a "consistent, predictable oxygen permeation that eliminating off-flavors due to oxidation, reduction, or cork taint".

We then dressed for the plant tour - hair nets, gowns, ear plugs and radios in order to communicate over the running machinery. But before entering the plant itself, we stepped into the Sensory Laboratory, which is one phase of the company's quality assurance implementation. Antoinette Morano, Sensory Services Lab Manager, described to us how the lab is intended to "ensure that their wine closures are completely sensory neutral". The lab is a controlled non odorous environment where her team evaluates the raw materials and finished goods. This process also includes inspecting delivery trucks and pallets.  The laboratory also evaluates wines closed with Nomacorc closures to ensure that the corcs are not affecting the character of the wines they protect.

We then entered the physical plant and yes, the ear plugs and radios were necessary. There is a wall that contains a display case of wines closed with Nomacorc closures as well as samples of the raw materials, co-extruded synthetic material, and the finished product.

How are the corcs manufacured?
"First, raw materials are mixed, melted, and extruded to create a long, foamed cylinder, forming the closure’s core. Then a second extrusion process applies a flexible outer skin, which is thermally bonded to the inner cylinder. The shape is stabilized in cooling water before our high-speed cutting operation cuts the closures to the proper length."

As we witnessed, this process is continuous, leading to a consistent product - no variations or inconsistencies due to batch processing. The machinery was quite fascinating - I always wonder how they even build the machinery that makes the machinery and so on down the line. The process from inputting the raw materials to the co-extrusion itself, where the outer skin and foam core are extruded together, was rather anti-climatic. The most interesting parts did not occur until after the co-extrusion process where a laser controls for size and shape and when the corcs are cut into exact lengths. And I did notice one set of corcs failed and rejected by the laser. Another interesting aspect was their ink adhesive process where the company can now stamp their corcs on both ends as well as the standard sides.

I had read other visitors comment about the amount of water used to cool the synthetic material - but in my opinion - it wasn't out of the ordinary of similar cooling operations and Plant Manager, John Wojcik, stated that the water is sent to the sewer in better shape then from the tap. 

After we finished the plant tour we listened to Ben Mayo of Eberle Winery in Paso Robles describe his customer experience from using several Nomacorc closures over the past ten years. He said they turned to Nomacorc because of supply issues from natural cork and experiencing a 2-3% return rate from TCA. And during the past decade he has never had one of his customers complain or even mention the closure. Mayo feels strongly that the Nomacorc closures slow the aging process and he has never witnessed cord dust or a crumbling cork in his wines.  We then sampled the Eberle 2003 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon closed by Nomacorc's Classic corc. And yes, it had held up, it seemed like a young wine - plenty of blackberry and dark cherry aromas and flavor with no signs of reduction - just smooth chewy tannins. Mayo explained that these characters are a result of the closure's oxygen management - which we will turn to in Part II.

Monday, February 17, 2014

My take on Novelty Wines v Class Wines

First Robert M Parker Jr and now Jancis Robinson have written lengthy columns on what Robinson describes as "Novelty v classic wines". Basically Parker had a hissy fit about the rise of obscure indigenous grapes such as Trousseau, Savagnin, Grand Noir, Negrette, Lignan Blanc, Peloursin, Auban, Calet, Fongoneu and Blaufrankisch - at the expense of the royal court of Cabernet, Merlot, and Chardonnay.  Alder Yarrow of Vinography posted an outstanding rebuttal and I, for one, good use some obscure Blaufrankisch right now.

Jancis Robinson then jumped into the debate with an article titled Bottle fight: Novelty v classic wines which is an unfortunate start - depicting indigenous grapes in a carnival sense and not as grapes that have thrived in their terrior for centuries. This is odd considering Robinson's many books portray her as a fan and expert on the world's indigenous grapes.  Robinson starts by criticizing Parker's tone and states that she would provide a "sturdy defense of the thrilling quality and distinction of some wines" from these indigenous grapes, but then agrees with Parker that these indigenous grapes will never exceed the great wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.

In defending this position, she then makes two interesting claims. First she says that 90% of Chardonnay is dull; but because there is so much Chardonnay planted by the laws of averages some must be delicious. Then she says that she agrees with Parker that "that viticultural rarity does not necessarily bestow wine quality".  Well obviously the same holds true for planting Chardonnay if 90% is dull.  Personally, I would rather drink a dull Savagnin and learn about Jura then drink another dull Chardonnay from anywhere. I don't think anyone has argued that indigenous grapes make outstanding wines simply by existing, but as Yarrow attests in his rebuttal - there are examples of outstanding wines outside of Parker's domain. 

Maybe what Parker and Robinson fail to perceive that the public is growing tired of  the same old choices when going to restaurants or wine shops. Perhaps we are thirsting for something new besides the big three. Seems like American winemakers have foreseen or driven this trend by planting more Rhone, Spanish, German, and Italian grape varieties. And do we really want to see hectares of  indigenous grapes ripped apart to plant more international varieties? Do we want our wine choices to be more homogenous? I don't think so, and I'm quite satisfied with the current status of Novelty wines.  Cheers.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Beer Scene in Raleigh: Trophy Brewing Company

This week I spent a couple snow covered days in Raleigh, North Carolina as a guest of Nomacorc, the world's leading producer of synthetic corks. In between a factory tour and seminars, I discovered that Raleigh has a decent beer culture with a fair number of breweries located within city limits. Big Boss Brewing Company is one I've encountered before and during lunches and dinners I was able to sample their Hell's Belle Belgium ale, Bad Penny dark brown ale, and Blanco Diablo Wit ale. All nailed their respective styles and were quite pleasant.

On my last day I had a couple hours free and planned to walk to a few that were closest to the hotel. However, because of the snow storm two were closed(Natty Greene's Pub & Brewing Co and Crank Arm Brewing Company), so using theCompass mobile app I sloshed my way to Trophy Brewing Company, a 3 barrel nano brewery and pizza joint.  The restaurant was lively with all bar seating taken - as were most tables. Finding a seat, I immediately noticed the shelves of sports trophies - donated by generous patrons.

I ordered a four beer sampler and soon was Casanova Export Stout, Best In Show “American Saison”, Slingshot Coffee Porter, and Loner Berliner Weisse. The later is a low abv wheat beer, brewed to be tart and sour with very little of hop bitterness. Their version was true to form, although it is also brewed with peaches and ginger and I really didn't pick up on those flavors. The Slingshot was true to its name with the coffee sourced from local Slingshot Coldbrew Coffee. I definitely enjoyed the inter-play of the chocolate and coffee in the palette.  In a similar fashion, the Casanova had a nice balance between the chocolate roasted malt flavor and hop bitterness. However, once again I failed to notice the additives, this time the vanilla notes as described on the chalk board. My favorite of the four was the Best In Show - a very appropriately named farmhouse ale. From the citrus nose to the bitter tail, this beer was completely enjoyable - well done. Next time, I'll try the pizza and expand my visit to the other breweries. But when in Raleigh, pair any of these breweries with American Aquarium. Cheers

Friday, February 7, 2014

Notaviva Vineyards Hosts Melodies of the Danube 2015 - a European River Cruise

Stephen Mackey, owner of the Virginia winery Notaviva Vineyards (Purcellville), is hosting a wine and music European river cruise next year - where travelers can enjoy fine European and Virginia vinifera and Central European music. The Melodies of the Danube 2015 starts in romantic Budapest where you spend the day touring Buda and Pest. I highly recommend an hour in the Central Market Hall and the Tokaji wine bar.  Learn to appreciate dry Furmint as I did many years ago. Also, if you have a chance to sample Soproni Kekfrankos or anything from Villany - drink it.

From Hungary, the boat travels to Austria and while gently cruising along the Danube, Mackey will be leading several wine lectures throughout the journey.  He will be pouring wine from Notaviva and showcasing why Virginia is a rising wine region as well as leading comparative tasting between the Virginia and Austrian wine.
1) Onboard Wine Tasting - "Austrian Varietals in America" Host Stephen Mackey leads a discussion of Blaufrankisch, Zweigelt and Gruner Veltliner. Enjoyed with Notaviva Vineyards "Vierzig" Blaufrankisch inspired by Mozart's 40th symphony.
2) Onboard Wine Lecture #1 - "Wine and Music Pairing Experience" -- Led by host Stephen Mackey, guests will enjoy two blind tastings of Virginia wines, accompanied by diverse music playlists and and engaging, interactive evaluation of how various musical genres accompany different wine styles. Includes discussion on the science of cognitive neurology and emotional receptors as they relate to the sensory perception of wine.
3) Onboard Wine Lecture #2 - "Introduction to Music Theory" -- Enjoy a carefully chosen selection of Virginia and Austrian wines while host Stephen Mackey analyzes works from Beethoven, Mozart and Strauss and explains the core technical elements of Western music such as melody, harmony, texture, rhythm, dynamics, form and tone color. Each composer's work will be paired with an appropriate wine, and there will be fun quizzes and prizes!
4) Paired Wine Dinner - "Ottantotto" barrel-fermented Viognier, "Vierzig" (Mozart) Blaufrankisch, "Ode to Joy" (Beethoven) Meritage
5) Onboard Wine Lecture #3 - "TasteLive!" -- Host Stephen Mackey will conduct the first-of-its-kind live International tasting of Austrian and Virginia wines from the ship while connected via social media and video conferencing with passengers' friends, family and Virginia wine industry colleagues back in Loudoun at the Notaviva Vineyards tasting room.

Wachau - courtesy of AWMB / Gerhard Elze
The boat spends four days in Austria - Vienna, Krebs, Durnstein, and Linz where the spotlight remains on wine but the classical music of Strauss and Mozart as well as traditional folk music are introduced. There are several opportunities to explore medieval villages and sample wine from various Austrian wine regions: Wein, Wachau, Kremstal, Wagram, and more. Here you will get your fill of Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, and perhaps a smooth Pinot Noir (Blauburgunder). The final destination is Passau, Germany where Octoberfest and beer come into play. And for even more fun, AMAwaterways, the host travel agency, is also offering pre and post cruise tours of Budapest, Munich, and Prague. To learn more about the host winery, Notaviva Vineyards, check out this profile in Northern Virginia Magazine. Cheers and happy

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Crashing @DCBeer at Beltway Brewing to Promote #theCompassApp

This past Saturday I noticed a tweet from @DCBeerBill Braun how DCBeer had organized a bus trip with Reston Limo to three Virginia breweries: Mad Fox Brewing Company, Port City Brewing Company, and Beltway Brewing Company. Since I had a kids birthday party in Sterling that afternoon, I decided to crash their visit in order to show him #theCompassApp and to learn more about the brewery. Glad I did. Although I didn't have much time to converse with the DCBeer folks, I sampled some nice beer and learned more about the only full service contract brewery in the area. Currently Beltway Brewing offers two house beers, the Batch One Amber Ale and the Suite Dee Session IPA. Both beers were brewed basically in order to test the brewing equipment because their business model is to contract wholly for other breweries. In the past they had produced the brews for Adroit Theory Brewing Company before they moved to their Purcellville location and currently they are pouring a couple from Hilton Head's Wooden Skiff Brewing Company. Once their beers sell out, Beltway will "buyback" a few kicks of each contracted brew that they will pour on Thursday and Friday nights in the tasting room. A great concept for us consumers as our options increase with each contract.

It's too bad Beltway won't continue their house brand because they are quite tasty. The Batch One was malt forward but had a nice hop finish to balance the sweetness. The Suite Dee has a powerful refreshing citrus aroma followed by a light bodied beer and a clean refreshing finish. And at 4.8% abv - love this style of beer.  Going forward, we will have to check out the recipes from the contracted breweries - the Wooden Skiff Blonde was nice and I'll have to head a little further west to sample the Adroit Theory. Fortunately Beltways also sells cans and bottles and not just growlers so I will be able to enjoy the Suite Dee until my stock runs out. Cheers.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Three Keswick Vineyards Viogniers for #VAWineChat

Last week we were invited to participate in the monthly twitter tasting #VAWineChat, feauring a trio of 2012 Viognier from Keswick Vineyards.The winery is situated due east of Charlottesville and with 16 acres,  has one of the state's largest planting of Viognier - perhaps the largest.  The three wines were produced from 100% estate fruit and are 100% single varietal. 2012 was a typical growing year for Virginia and winemaker Stephen Barnard also explained that they "backed off on ripeness for racy lower alcohol wines". In the winery, Barnard believes that neutral oak gives the palate some lift and  enhances the texture and using a small percentage of new oak adds to complexity.

We started off the tasting with the 2012 Viognier ($24, 13.5% abv), where 70% of the juice was tank fermented, the other 30% fermented in neutral. The fermented juice then maturated for 6 months on lees.  The result is an assertive fruity wine with a mouthful of citrus cream followed by a clean, refreshingly acidic finish. A rather nice start to the evening.

Next was the 2012 Reserve Viognier ($27.95, 14.2% abv) , where the juice was whole cluster pressed and then fermented wholly in neutral barrels.   This wine possesses more of the peach & apricot notes usually associated with Virginia Viognier as well as more oak creaminess with hints of coconut on the nose. There's a bit of white pepper as well, which initially threw me off, but as the wine breathed, integrated nicely into the overall sensation.

The final Viognier was the 2012 Signature Series Viognier ($34.95, abv), a bold project where the juice was whole cluster pressed and racked straight to barrel without being inoculated with custom yeast strains or primed with sulpher. The hardest part for Barnard was waiting for the various yeast strains moving about the winery to begin fermenting the juice. These yeast strains could be natural strains that exist in all around us or perhaps commercial yeast that is still floating in the winery. 30% of the oak used in fermentation and aging was new French oak; thus the resulting wine is heavier than the other two with more of a toasted vanilla and honey character. The finish is still citrusy with plenty of balancing acidity - definitely the best of the bunch.

The Keswick wines showed why Viognier has great potential to be the Commonwealth's signature grape. If only the grape was not so finicky in the vineyard, more wineries could participate in the Virginia Viognier movement. But cheers to those who do, particularly Keswick Vineyards. Pair with Charlottesville based rock band Sons of Bill and Green PA Broadleaf cigars from Cigar Volante.