Sunday, November 30, 2014

Another New Brewery in Ocean City, Maryland: Assawoman Bay Brewing Company

Ocean City Maryland has a growing craft beer scene and the newest entrant is Assawoman Bay Brewing Company, located in the 45th Street Village. For those unfamiliar with this Maryland beach community, Assawoman Bay is the lagoon that separates the Ocean City peninsula with the Delmarva mainland and the name comes from the Algonquian Indians who originally lived here. This weekend the brewery itself was closed, but the beers were available next door at their sister location: the 45th Street Taphouse.  Over lunch, I sampled through the brewery's eight offerings ranging from the Bayside Blonde to the Commodore Decatur Black IPA. This IPA was one of my favorites, with a creamy, toasted malt flavor finishing with dark chocolate bitterness. It also provides a historical lesson, being named for local Naval hero Stephen Decatur. Another favorite was the spicy Red Head Rye Ale, Angry Clown Brown Ale, and Sunsationale Belgium Pale Ale.  Well done and, as always, theCompass Winery Brewery Distillery app can guide your there. Cheers.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Old York Cellars #VirtualVines - Dry Riesling & Malbec

Last week Old York Cellars hosted another Virtual Wines video tasting with wine maker Scott Gares and Sommelier Laurin Dorman. While a wine dinner was being served at the winery, Gares and Dorman gave an overview of two of the wineries latest releases, the 2013 Dry Riesling ($17, 1% RS, 13.0% ABV) and 2013 Malbec ($17, 13.8% ABV). I was fortunate enough to receive a sample so that I could participate as well. We started with the riesling where the tasting notes suggest: a dry, crisp white with hints of stonefruit and red delicious apple. Pair with your favorite sushi roll. Gares used R2 yeast to provide more apple and cream characters and I definitely noticed a tart, creamy honeycrisp flavor. Gares also talked about how the wine was harvested and fermented to retain acids, but that was one aspect my specific bottle lacked. The wine fell flat at the finish. I need to try another. And as with the case with all Old York Cellars wines, Dorman suggests a chocolate pairing, for the Riesling milk chocolate with 30% cocoa.

Turning to the Malbec, the tasting notes read "this medium bodied red has luscious red fruit flavors and silky, smooth finish. Pair with your favorite burger". Gares said the grapes were harvested at 24 brix which equates to a higher ph and lower acids. He spent two weeks pumping over and pushing down the fermenting juice and skins until the wine acquired the color and flavor he targeted. The wine was then aged in American oak. The result? There's a lot to love about this wine starting with the character, fruit forward, approachable, soft tannins, and a hint of spices. I also detect some cedar leather in both the aroma and palette. Finally, you have to like the low alcohol (13.8%) and the suggested chocolate pairing is smooth dark at 50-60% cocoa. I'm looking forward to seeing more of the beauty. Cheers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lodi, Old-Vine Zinfandel, and Oak Ridge Winery Old Zin Vines

The Lodi AVA is located in California's Central Valley - east of San Francisco Bay and west of the Sierra Nevada foothills.  It's Mediterranean climate of hot days and cool nights (maritime breezes) creates a conducive environment for wine grapes - particularly Lodi's signature grape: Zinfandel. And usually old-vine zinfandel. Old vine? Some of these vines are 120 years old, gnarly, with very small yields.  The Historic Vineyard Society, documents older vineyards in the interest of preservation and defines old vines or historic vines as:
        • Currently productive vines
        • Vines planted no later than 1960
        • At least one third of vines traceable to the original planting date

One Lodi winery producing old-vine zinfandel is also the region's oldest continually operating producer, Oak Ridge Winery. The was founded in 1934 as a winemaking cooperative of local grape growers. In 2001, Rudy Maggio and his partners, Don and Rocky Reynolds purchased the winery and retained many aspects of the historical property - for instance the building for Lodi's first tasting room.  Today the produces several brands including its signature Old Zin Vines (“OZV”).  The wine is made from grapes harvested from 50-100 year old zinfandel vines spread throughout the winery's various estate vineyards. Juice from certain lots are aged in various toast levels, whereas some are aged in stainless steel.  The lots are then blended together that is intended to be bright and fruity while retaining richness and depth.

Last week I received a sample of the “OZV” which comes in at 13.95% ABV and retails in the low teen. Like that price point. The wine starts with red fruit and tobacco on the nose, followed by chewy candied raspberry flavor, and finishing rather nicely (decent acids).  This is a rather nice everyday wine, both in the palette and financially. And according to the winery's locator - available in most states. Cheers to that.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cider Week Quiz: Which U.S. state hosts the most hard cider producers?

With apple season in full swing, hard cider is experiencing a seasonal renaissance with increased exposure from consumers, the media, and online tastings (#winestudio). Plus, Cider week starts November 14th in both Virginia and the Hudson Valley -- where consumers can learn more about the beverage through special tastings and events.

Hard cider is produced in 33 states and six Canadian provinces, and I recently learned that Quebec hosts the largest number of cider producers in North America with 53. This number includes both wineries and cideries as well as distilleries that distill hard cider.  So which U.S. state hosts the largest number of hard cider producers? and theCompass Mobile Application don't tell the full story, since they are limited to establishment's with tasting rooms. Care to guess?  I'll release the answer and source on Friday. Cheers.

Which state hosts the most hard cider producers?
New York
Please Specify:
Poll Maker

Friday Update: According to the Cider Guide website there are 29 cider producers in Oregon, 30 in Michigan and California, 33 in Washington, and 39 in New York state.  Many of these are in the Hudson Valley where Cider Week begins today. Cider Week VA also starts today highlight the Commonwealth's nine operating cideries. Cheers to that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

TasteCamp: The Hudson River Region AVA

Benmarl Winery & Vineyard
Millbrook Vineyards
View from Glorie Farm Winery

Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery

Although my first posts concerning TasteCamp focused on cider and spirits, the Hudson Valley wine industry was the primary focal point of the trip. During the weekend, I probably tasted close to 75 New York wines, with about half  Hudson River Region (HRR) designated. Leading up to the weekend, I gained a better knowledge and appreciation of the Hudson Valley by participating in a #WineStudio series focusing on the region. For instance, the Hudson Valley is home to the oldest continually operating winery in the U.S. (Brotherhood America's Oldest Winery) as well as the oldest continually used vineyard, now part of  Benmarl Winery & Vineyard. Wine making did not return to the Hudson in a commercial sense, post prohibition, until the Farm Winery Bill was passed in 1976. The drivers of that project were John Dyson - the State Commissioner of Agriculture - and owner of Millbrook Vineyards & Winery and John Miller of Benmarl. By utilizing estate grown grapes (amended two years later to allow any NY grapes), New York wineries received lower taxes, the ability to sell directly to consumers, and to self-distribute. And as importantly, it encouraged the retention and growth of vineyards. Thus, the New York wine industry owes its current renaissance to two pioneers in the Hudson.

In most cold climate regions, French-Hybrids usually dominate and in the HRR, Seyval is a leading white grape. Before this weekend I think the only Seyval I tasted that left an impression was from Linden Vineyards. In most other cases they were just average nondescript wines. However, I tasted several tasty Hudson Valley Seyvals - starting with Clinton Vineyards - who not only, only produce wine from Seyval, but they also produce champagne methodoise versions. These were quite nice, citrus and effervescent. Hudson-Chatham Winery and Glorie Farm Winery both featured Seyval that were dry, light, fruit forward, with a lemon-citrus and acidic finish. And the Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery White Awosting is a very tasty blend of Vignoles and Seyval Blanc. Another benefit of these Seyval wines are their low price points, $15 on average.

But, let's talk Hudson River Region vinifera. Starting with whites, I tasted several nice Rieslings over the weekend, with most produced from fruit sourced from the Finger Lakes. The exception was Tousey Winery, where we were provided a vertical tasting of their 2011 to 2013 Estate Grown Hudson River Rieslings. These wines were fantastic, each different, but showcasing the stone fruits and acidity inherent and American Riesling. Owners Kimberly and Ben Peacock have an interesting story as well, agreeing to take over operations while visiting from Europe. It also helps that Peter Bell, of Fox Run Vineyards, is a consultant. Millbrook Vineyards & Winery also produces a HRR Riesling in their Dry Riesling Proprietor's Special Reserve -- another solid wine. Millbrook also produces a very respectable chardonnay, as well as one of my favorites of the weekend - the 2013 Proprietor’s Special Reserve Tocai Friulano. Simply delicious. And talking about trendsetters; Millbrook has been growing Tocai Friulano since 1985.

Moving to red wines, the Hudson River Region appears to be a bright sport for Cabernet Franc and Baco Noir. Once again Millbrook Vineyards & Winery provided our party with a solid offering in their Proprietor’s Special Reserve Cabernet Franc. This was followed by the Glorie Farm Winery estate Cabernet Franc - which quickly became a TasteCamp favorite. And count Tousey Winery as another winery producing a solid cab franc. While driving around the Marlboro area the day after TasteCamp, I stumbled upon newly opened Brunel and Rafael Winery. Check out their Hudson River Region Cabernet Franc. My favorite goes to Benmarl's 2012 Ridge Road Estate Cabernet Franc. This is the bomb. One of the best wines of the weekend.

Our host for TasteCamp was the proprietor of Hudson-Chatham Winery, Carlo Devito. Carlo planned the entire weekend, which included a lunch tasting of area wines and ciders at his winery - all this in the middle of harvest. While his winemaker Stephen Casscles & crew crushed grapes, Carlo also opened his entire portfolio for us to sample. And this included several Baco Noirs, Carlo's most famous wines. There are not many producers of this hybrid anymore, but Hudson-Chatham specializes in Baco Noir as we sampled four vineyard designate wines. The estate vineyard at Hudson-Chatham,  North Creek Vineyard, has four year old vines growing in Block 3 - hence the Block 3 North Creek Vineyard Baco Noir. The also produce theCasscles Middle Hope Baco Noir  from a vineyard Casscles planted while in high school. What foresight. My favorite two were from Mason Place Vineyard, the  Field Stone Baco - Old Stones & Old Vines - Mason Place Vineyard and the Old Vines Mason Place Vineyard. This last wine is outstanding, the grapes harvested from 60 year old vines.

There were also several other reds to praise, in particular, the Hudson-Chatham Winery Chelois, Clearview Vineyard Noiret, and Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery Reserve Gamay Noir. First, who in the U.S. even produces a Chelois outside of Hudson-Chatham. Second, its a killer wine.  The Clearview Noiret was easily the best I've ever tasted from this Cornell bred grape. And the Whitecliff Gamay Noir was simply spectacular.

There are many other wines I know I am omitting, but I'm trying to be brief. Tastecamp was a great education and experience. Looking forward to returning soon, hopefully a tour of the southern Shawangunk Wine Trail. Cheers.