Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Seven Reasons to Visit the Livermore Valley AVA

During the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference I participated in the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association excursion. This was my first visit to the area but by the end of the trip I had a decent grasp of the major reasons why this is an exciting wine region to visit. In general the Livermore Valley AVA is located less than an hour east of San Francisco and is 25 miles long and 18 miles wide - resembling an oval. Within this area are 4,000 acres of vineyards that contain well draining soils and are blessed with daily maritime breezes that cool the region during the summer.  These are interesting factoids but the real reasons to visit the Livermore Valley AVA are listed below.

Learn About California Wine History
The Livermore Valley is one of the oldest wine making regions in California. For a quick timeline, in the 1840s Robert Livermore planted the first wine grapes in the valley. Then in 1882 Secretary of the CA Viticultural Commission, Charles Wetmore, established Cresta Blanca Vineyards. In 1883 pioneers C.H. Wente and James Concannon established Wente Vineyards Estate Winery and Concannon.Vineyard respectively. Both are now the oldest continuously-operated, family-owned winery in the country with Wente slightly older.  Then, in 1889, the original Judgement of Paris occurred when Wetmore's Livermore Valley Dry White wine won the Grand Prix at the International Paris Exposition. This was the first time an Ameican wine region had won a Gold medal in an international competition, let alone the Gand Prix. California was now on the wine map. And nearly a hundred years later, in 1982, the Livermore AVA was established

Visit the Concannon Cabernet Mother Vine
When James Concannon established his winery he imported vines directly from renowned Château Margaux and Château d’Yquem and became one of the first to produce Bordeaux-style wines in California.  In 1960 Jim Concannon, grandson of James, became lead winemaker at Concannon Vineyard. Five years later he collaborated with University of California – Davis in developing three Cabernet Sauvignon clones (7, 8 and 11) from a single vine that James Concannon had earlier imported from Château Margaux.  These Concannon Clones have played a major role in California's flourishing Cabernet market where today they account for approximately 80% of California Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Mother Vine is located at the beginning of a row near the auxiliary house not far from the tasting room.  Make sure you try the Concannon Vineyard 2013 Mother Vine Cabernet Sauvignon ($36). It is delicious.

Attend the Wente Winemakers Studio
Wente Vineyards is to Chardonnay what Concannon Vineyard is to Cabernet Sauvignon. In 1936 the winery released the first ever varietal-labeled Chardonnay and Wente clones now account for a similar 80% of all California Chardonnay. One source of the Wente clones comes from Charles Wetmore's imported Chardonnay budwood from Meursault in Burgundy. Wetmore had distributed some of this budwood
to the Theodore Gier vineyard in the Livermore Valley. The second major source of the “Wente clone” occurred in 1912 when Ernest Wente and Leon Bonnet, of UC Davis persuaded C.H. Wente to import Chardonnay cuttings from the vine nursery at the University of Montpellier.

Visitors can learn more about the Wente Chardonnay clones and other wines at the Wente Winemakers Studio. The program consists of five experiences such as blind tasting, food pairing, aroma training, serving vessels (aka does glass size and share matter), and a blending experience. During our tour we participated in the first four sessions and they were not only enjoyable but also educational. And yes, size does matter. Wente is offering a two for one package through January 2017. Use VIPVISIT as the promo code. As for the Wente Chardonnays my favorite seemed to oscillate between the fresh and affordable 2015 Morning Fog Chardonnay ($15) and the luscious 2014 Nth Degree Chardonnay (sorry for wine club members only).

Drink From Murrietta's Well
Water that is, not wine. Joaquin Murrieta Carrillo was a famous figure in California lore during the first half of the 1800s, where he was considered a bandit, horse thief, or a Mexican Robin Hood. And either Joaquin or his nephew are considered the basis for Johnston McCulley's Don Diego de la Vega - aka Zorro. Joaquin Murrieta discovered a little used well in the Livermore Valley that he would use to water his horses. In the 1880s Louis Mel purchased the land and planted a vineyard with cuttings from the famed Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux vineyards. I sense a pattern. He eventually sold the property to his friend Ernest Wente and later Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso revived the winery and opened Murrieta’s Well. They renovated the original winery and visitors can still see original beams and stones, dragged from the nearby river bed, embedded in the walls. Try the Murrieta's Well 2015 Small Lot Dry Rosé ($30).

Taste Petite Sirah
In 1964 Jim Concannon released the very first varietal-labeled Petite Sirah from his 1961 vintage which has lead him to be referred to as “The Father of Petite Sirah.” Today the grape is mildly available among Livermore wineries, but the three I sampled were fantastic. As expected, Concannon keeps the tradition alive with a few in their portfolio. I sampled the Concannon 2010 Reserve Petite Sirah ($40) - a chewy dark fruit wine with a spicy and acidic finish. Beautiful.  Next was the Page Mill Winery 2013 Tazetta Vineyard Petite Sirah ($36) that was similar to the Concannon but more earthy and leathery. Finally popular winemaker Collin Cranor poured us the Vasco Urbano Wine Company 2013 Heine Petite Sirah ($48) and this may have been my favorite - it's as complex as the others, but oh so smooth.......

Savor White Bordeaux
Although Cabernet Sauvignon hogs the limelight, white Bordeaux wines have been in integral part of the wine history of the Livermore Valley. For it was Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon that comprised Wetmore's Grand Prix winning dry white wine. One current source of Livermore Valley white Bordeaux is the Ghielmetti Estate Vineyard where the Steven Kent Winery 2015 "Lola" White Wine ($24) and the 3 Steves Winery 2015 Sauvignon Blanc are sourced. The single varietal Sauvignon Blanc was fresh and fruity, yet I yearn for the blends.  The "Lola" was just more complex and savory as was the tropical leading Concannon.Vineyard 2014 Reserve Assemblage Blanc ($24).  Concannon also released a dessert white Bordeaux wine in the very rich and tasty 2013 Reserve Late Harvest Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc. Finally, Semillon stood proudly on it's own in the Cuda Ridge Wines 2015 Mel's Ranch Vineyard Semillon. This creamy tropical wine is a keeper.

Discover 50 Close Knit Wineries
There are currently 50 wineries within the Livermore Valley AVA and not only are they close in proximity to each other but there's a shared comradery that was prevalent throughout our tour. One winemaker arrived in a borrowed truck from another winemaker, equipment is passed around as needed, and advice shared readily.  In the words of Guy Clark, "That' the kind of stuff I like to be around".  theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App can help you navigate while driving among the different wineries, but another interesting option is the Pedego Electric Bikes. Pedal when you want, use the motor on more difficult passages. In any case, I highly recommend a visit to the Livermore Valley AVA. Not only will you sample delicious historic wines,  but you will be treated as an honored guest in the tasting room. Cheers.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Spirits Review: Troy & Sons Platinum Corn Whiskey

Asheville North Carolina is rapidly becoming a major player in the craft brewery scene, but it also includes a few distilleries - which is not surprising considering it's Appalachian location. One of these is Asheville Distilling Company and their Troy & Sons brand. In 2008, owner Troy Ball started researching local moonshine recipes both in person and through the North Carolina State Archives. Her goal was to recreate the "keeper" moonshines - smooth with little to no burn. Once perfecting her recipe she opened the distillery in 2011 with the brand name incorporating her three sons: Marshall, Coulton, and Luke.

The Troy & Sons Platinum ($32) is 100% corn whiskey uniquely made with Crooked Creek Corn, an open-pollinated heirloom white corn, that is grown locally in the mountains of Western North Carolina. In fact, the corn was first farmed by earlier generations of the same family in the late 1700’s. After testing, it was recognized as an heirloom variety thought to be lost in the mid 1800's. As expected of a "keeper" moonshine, this whiskey is very smooth and starts with lightly toasted caramel which persists alongside stone fruits and Christmas spices. Very complex. And very appealing.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Reviewing the Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2012

Amarone della Valpolicella is a style of wine making in the Valpolicella viticultural region in the Italian province of Verona. Amarone wines are made from a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and Versonese grapes that are placed in open crates to dry for a number of months in a process called appassimento. From its inception in 1936, the Cesari winery under founder Gerardo Cesari has been producing Amarone wines with the Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2012 ($40) the latest release. The winery utilizes Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes that are sun dried for four months then fermented very slowly on their skins.  The wine then undergoes an extensive aging regime, a mixture of French oak barriques and large Slavonian oak barrels for one year, then blended and aged 18 additional months.  Once bottled, the wine rests for eight months before release. Amarone wines are considered very age-able and when I first opened the wine was very tight, a restricted aroma and soft flavor. I lightly corked the bottle and opened the next evening and the wine had transformed into a beauty. Dark fruit and spice on the nose,  more dark fruit and chocolate melting through a soft mid-palate, and finishing very smooth with a slight spicy character.  With patience, nicely done.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Visiting More Loudoun County Breweries #VABreweryChallenge

Loudoun County is the largest and fastest growing craft beer region in the Commonwealth and this past weekend I used theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App to visit four. Dog Money Restaurant & Brewery (#42) opened recently in the old Vintage 50 location by brewer Dean Lake and Tim Regan. The existing 10 barrel system is used to brew a rotating lineup of 6 lagers\ales with the Loudoun Common Golden Lager spot on. The molasses fused Mo’ Porter was also quite nice with the remaining - Dog Money Red Ale, Hostile Extraction IPA, Belgian-style Tripel, and Dog Money Hefeweizen - all up to style.

Black Walnut Brewery (#43) is also located in downtown Leesburg and opened at the same time as Dog Money. owner Patrick Wilt is\was a passionate home brewer and converted a former salon to a cozy brewery.  The patio is a great spot to sip a pint and my favorite was the Black Lab IPA. This black IPA was flavorful with a balanced and smooth finish. I also tried the Yellow Lab IPA and it was a little weaker in both flavor and hop character. I look forward to revisiting when the brewery's production has settled.
Barnhouse Brewery (#44) reopened this Spring in its new barn-brewery, tightly integrated in the Loudoun Wine Trail with The Vineyards & Winery at Lost Creek and Hidden Brook Winery within walking distance.  I sampled through a 4-beer flight and loved three quarters.  The Breakfast Bitter was well made, just not my thing that day. On the other hand, the Piedmont Smoked Porter was outstanding with the smoky flavors integrating with the food truck sausages. The Kittoctin Kolsh was spot on, refreshing and minerally. And finally the Barrel Aged Whiskey Shenandoah Stout, aged in used Catoctin Creek Distilling Company Roundstone Rye barrels, is fantastic. The vanilla and rye blends nicely with the stout's mellowed chocolate malt.  Barnhouse is a must visit.

As is Vanish Farmwoods Brewery (#45), a large brewery and hops farm located just north of Lucketts.  On our visit there were 14 beers on tap which makes filling their massive 12 beer flight a little easier.  And these 14 fulfilled many styles: IPAs, an India Pale Lager, a few tasty sours, a delicious Cabernet Stout, a few Belgiums, and even an Oatmeal Pale Ale. There was not one beer where I thought, "don't like that one". There's also regular live music, cornhole, and plenty of picnic tables inside and out. I hope to return during their Oktoberfest celebration the last weekend in September. Cheers.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Why I Enjoyed the 2016 Lodi Wine Bloggers Conference

A couple weeks ago I attended the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference sponsored by the Lodi Wine Grape Commission. There's always some crumbling about the sessions, and personally I would have preferred more Lodi specific content. But in total I believe #WBC16 was a great success. Here's why.

The Bargain Attendee Fee
Where else can you eat and drink for three plus days for only $95? I often feel unworthy of

Tasting through New Zealand's Yealands Family Wine in the Conference Hallway
An extended lunch caused many of us to miss the A Bold New Look at Sustainability session sponsored by Yealands Family Wines and hosted by chief winemaker Tamra Kelly-Washington. Fortunately I met the Palm Bay Int'l reps walking out and they generously donated six Yealands' wines for us to sample. After a scramble for glasses, a pop-up tasting ensued. The wines consisted of a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Noir, and the rest Sauvignon Blanc; the S1 Single Block Yealands Marlborough Estate Sauvignon Blanc being the consensus favorite.

The Lodi Opening Reception at Mohr Fry Ranch
This was the first introduction to Lodi wines for most of us and it reinforced rumors that Lodi was just not all old vine Zinfandel. Yes, there were several nice examples of this signature wine, but I also sampled Turley Wine Cellars Cinsault, Mettler Family Vineyards Pinotage, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Sauvignon Blanc.  We also had our first opportunity to taste the Scotto Cellars Masthead: A Lodi Wine Blended by Wine Bloggers. The 100% Mohr-Fry Ranch Block 433 Sangiovese was very smooth. Well done.

The Scotto Cellars Masthead Party
The conference's first after party was sponsored by Scotto Cellars in their new downtown Lodi tasting room. They also invited Peltier Winery & Vineyards and Klinker Brick Winery to pour alongside Scotto's wine and Cider Brothers cider. In fact, this was my sole opportunity to drink cider the entire trip and their William Tell Dry Hard Cider with Pinot Grigio was a hit. The party also felt like a family reunion as more friends strolled in. 

Lodi Teroldego
At the Masthead party I learned that Lodi vineyards grow Teroldego, the Northern Italian grape from Trentino. Hard to believe. Yet I sampled at least three versions: the Peltier Winery Reserve Teroldego 2010, the Estate Crush Teroldego, and the LangeTwins Single Barrel Teroldego 2012. All were structured, acidic, and tannic - ready to lay down for a few years.  My next homework assignment is to research why Lodi is a good location for this grape.

Peltier Winery Visit
After meeting owner Rod Schatz and Director of Marketing & Design Ian Bender at the Masthead party, I accepted their semi-invite/semi-I invited myself to their winery. SanCrittenden and I skipped out of the Saturday morning sessions and Ian met us and provided the complete VP treatment. There was a winery tour (with tank sampling from newly hired winemaker Susana Rodrigeuz Vasquez), a crush pad tour (with Pinot Gris being crushed), a vineyard tour, and a tasting through their Peltier and Reserve portfolio. I had previously tasted their wines through their legacy Peltier Station labels, but the depth and strength of their portfolio is impressive. (See post here.)

Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut (Cinsault)
Over the weekend I sampled several excellent Cinsaut - Estate CrushTurley Wine Cellars, McCay Cellars, Michael David Winery -  all sourced from the historic Bechthold Vineyard. First planted in 1886, it is considered the oldest Cinsaut vineyard in the world - older than those in France where it is the fourth most widely planted grape variety. Before DNA analysis confirmed the grapes as Cinsaut, Al Bechthold was selling his crop for as low as $250 a ton. Now the highly desired grapes fetch ten times that amunt; all thanks to Joseph Spenker, the great-grandfather of Bechthold 's wife Wanda. In general, the Lodi Cinsaut wines were lively and intense with smooth and slightly tannic tails. Cinsaut Me with these wines that averaged only $25.

The Craft Spirits Lounge
The Wizard of Whiskey Justin Koury must have spent months acquiring the plethora of spirits he displayed at the #WBC16 #CraftSpirits Lounge. I never bothered to count, but there had to be at least four to five dozen? Besides drinking old favorites like the Hillrock Estate Distillery Solera Aged Bourbon, there were several highlights like the Few Spirits Rye Whiskey and the Bozeman Spirits Distillery 1889 Montana Whiskey. The lounge was also simply a quiet place to hand out - playing cards or catching up. At least quiet until the Pinata bashing....  Thanks Justin and all the sponsors.

The Friday Night Excursion with 99 Bottles
The vineyard excursion is usually one of the highlights of the conference and this year's equaled the fabulous Bien Nacido Vineyards excursion during the Santa Barbara conference. Our small group was taken to Estate Crush, a custom crush facility with over 80 clients and 120+ brands. Proprietors Bob and Ali Colarossi greeted us with glasses of 2015 Estate Crush Albarino and revealed our assignment. We were to create the final blend for their 2014 Colarossi Estate Old Vine Zinfandel that would be bottled and given as a parting gift to all the WBC16 wine bloggers. Divided into four groups, we all started with 95% Zinfandel and two additional grapes that would comprise the final 5%.  My partner Eveann of Vino Con Vista Italy and I were given Sangiovese and a Cabernet based Red Blend which we turned into a final blend of 97% Zin and 3% Red Blend.  During the blind tasting our blend received only one vote, ironically from me - talking about having a cellar palate. The wining wine was blended by Rachel of rachelvonwine and Heather of 10K Bottles - a blend of 97% Zin, 2% Syrah and 1% Petit Verdot.  After our blending session we proceeded to the Colaross's home where we were fed abundant amounts of Paella de Wetmore, thanks John, and of course wine - even going back to a three or four year vertical of their estate Old Vine Zinfandel. I didn't return back to the hotel until 11:30 - well past the 8:00 pm scheduled departure - and I hear the party didn't wrap up until 1:30. Thank you so much Bob and Ali.

Livermore Valley Wine Country Excurion
I always try to commit to a WBC pre-excursion and chose the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association sponsored tour. This was a fantastic outing, lavishly planned and executed. We had dinner at historic Concannon Vineyard hosted by John Concannon and Karl Wente, the 5th generation winemaker at Wente Vineyards Estate Winery. Both Concannon and Wente have been producing wine continuously since 1883 and we tasted the grapes straight off Concannon’s Cabernet Sauvignon “mother vine,” parent of 80% of Cab vines planted in California.  Similarly Wente's Chardonnay clones are responsible for about 86% of Chardonnay vines planted in California. We also enjoyed breakfast and wine at the Wente family Murrieta’s Well as well as a series of interactive wine sessions at the Wente Winemaker Studio. Finally there were numerous tastings of other producers such as Steven Kent Winery, 3 Steves WineryMcGrail Vineyards & Winery, Las Positas Vineyards, and our new favorite winemaker Collin Cranor. More to follow on this subject.

Generosity of the Lodi Wine Grape Commission and the Participating Wineries
We will never know that total amount of effort put forth by volunteers busing tables, attending meetings, laying cable that enabled the conference to succeed. Neither will we know the total amount of Lodi wine poured on our behalf.  But I completely appreciate the time and money that the Lodi sponsors undertook to make this conference happen. For instance, the converted high school now used for conventions did not have WiFi before our conference. The Lodi Wine Grape Commission through different philanthropic groups raised $60,000 in order to install the much need WiFi. And just days before the conference technicians were tweaking the routers for each individual meeting room.

Then there's the wines and dinners. The Colarossio's of Estate Crush poured our small party an unbelievable amount of wine including the vertical of their excellent estate old vine zinfandel. There's the wines poured during the opening reception,  Scotto Cellars and their Masthead party, and the various lunches, dinners, excursions, etc. And during the conference dinner, Michael McCay uncorked a rare double magnum of McCay Cellars Contenium Zinfandel on top of his generous assortment of other wines. So thank you very much to all the volunteers and participating wineries. Cheers to a fantastic conference. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Round Two of Exploring San Diego Breweries

With a second trip to San Diego this summer, I was eager to use theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App to explore the bounteous San Diego craft beer scene. Over 80 tasting rooms with a few knocked out during our Nationals-Padres trip.  And the first brewery listed in the location search was only two blocks from out hotel: The Beer Company. This brewpub is a bar first, pouring several other local beers, as well as a decent portfolio in house. These include the SD Wheat, San Diego Blonde, Cream Ale, Elimination IPA, and Pacific Beach Pale Ale. The last was my favorite, very balanced, then the IPA and Blonde.

After a long day at the magnificent San Diego Zoo, I noticed on theCompass app that South Park Brewing was only a few miles away.. Yes immediately I thought of the Comedy Central show, but the brewery is named for the community that lies southeast of Balboa Park.  It is owned by Hamiltons Tavern and Monkey Paw Brewing Company proprietor Scot Blair, with award-winning brewer Cosimo Sorrentino responsible for the taps. On this night, there were plenty of beer on tap - particularly the C.R.E.A.M. Ale (my Father's choice) and the Who Tarted? Vol 1, Cherry Edition.  How could I pass that beer up? It was light, and tart with the sour cherries enveloping the palette. Well down. The Cream Ale was also very nice, less vanilla than at The Beer Company and more refreshing.

My son discovered Pokemon Go this month so as the price for using my phone and a two hour meander through the Gaslamp District, Southport, and the Pier we concluded with a stop at The Local - home to Resident Brewing. I'm not sure if it was due to finally sipping a beer after walking all morning but these beers were fantastic. Particularly when there are two gose beers such as the Die Gose and Die Gose - Raspberry/Backberry. The latter is even more tart with a slight fruit sweetness and the original tart and salty. The Perky Blonde also carried some minerals and the Oatmeal Stout and Back Alley Porter nailed their respective styles.But the meisterstuck was the Vacation Coconut IPA - completely balanced with ample malts, coconuts, and Citra and Amarillo hops. Is there time for a third?

A trip to San Diego must include a trip to Old Town and to avoid the overcrowded restaurants head not to far to Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, the prize of the trip. Not only is the venue spectacular but they pour the complete Stone portfolio brewed at their four locations. This Liberty Station location opened May 2013 in Point Loma’s now-historic Naval Training Center with the restaurant located in the former mess hall. "The restaurant encompasses more than 23,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor dining and bars, as well as a bocce ball court, outdoor cinema space and an 11,315-square-foot garden.".  Pretty impressive. While devouring a large and oozing grilled cheese sandwich, I chose a sampler of Liberty Station brewed beers; all truly unique and fascinating. It started with the Stone Liberty Station Arrr & Arrr!!! Table Beer at only 3.5% ABV and quite backed with flavor. The came the Stone Alright Hamilton Amber Lager with a little more hop character. The Stone Liberty Station Wittier Moron Imperial Black Witbier was both spicy and complex and the Stone Liberty Station Oatworthy Oatmeal Pale Ale a treat. This spot is highly recommended. Cheers and safe travels.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

#WBC16 History of Grape Growing and Wine Making in Lodi

Here is a panel of some of the original modern-era players in the Lodi grape growing and winemaking scene how Lodi came to be one of the preeminent grape production areas and, additionally, now known for its quality wines.  Moderator – Mark Chandler, Mayor, City of Lodi, former Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission (1991-2011), and vineyardist. Panelists – Aaron Lange, Vineyard Manger with LangeTwins Winery and Vice Chair, California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG); Kevin Phillips, Vice President of Operations at Michael-David Winery and Phillips Farms, and Markus Bokisch, Owner/CEO/Vigneron at Bokisch Vineyards.

#WBC16 Keynote Speaker Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson

Here is 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference Keynote Speaker Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson in Lodi California. Apologize in advance for the two interruptions.

Friday, August 5, 2016

#VABreweryChallenge - Mustang Sally Brewing Company (#41)

The Mustang Sally Brewing Company Kolsch has been getting plenty of airtime at local restaurants so when I noticed that Friday rush hour traffic was only mildly bad I Headed out to Chantilly. The brewery is located in a business\industrial complex very similar to Ocelot Brewing Company. The tasting area is spacious with corn hole playing all the time. The management are Virginia craft beer veterans with head brewer Bret Kimbrough, the former head brewer of Vintage 50, and General Manager Dave Hennessey, the former head brewer of Old Dominion Brewing Company.

There were seven beers on tap for my visit and I chose a flight of their Kolsch, American Wheat, Porter, an IPA.  And as expected the Kolsch was very good, followed in preference by the Porter - with the chocolate flavor melting through any mocha. The IPA was clean and balanced, whereas the Wheat was slightly bready with no banana flavor inducing yeast involved. I think I would have preferred a little more breadiness with this one. Overall, the Mustang Sally brews are steady, but nothing to draw me back repeatedly. And as always theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App will guide you to these breweries. Cheers.

Update (8/15/16): Just learned that Kenny Allen most recently of Old Ox is now the head brewer.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

#MDBreweryChallenge: Black Flag Brewing Company

Howard County Maryland's newest brewery, Black Flag Brewing Company, opened July 27th with a large inventory of beers. Ten beers in fact, brewed in "direct opposition to the established norms - crafting beers that focus heavily on flavors and aromas without concern for fitting any given category". I'd say that marketing-brewing strategy is valid as the lineup includes an IPA, DIPA, Saison, Dark Farmhouse, Kentucky Common, Smoked Porter, Blonde and a special blend. The Prozack Morris Blonde was a popular choice with our group as was the Mambo Sauce DIPA, Barnwood Dark Farmhouse, Chase the Grain Kentucky Common, and Belgian Waffle Blend (75% Belgie Belgian Saison - 25% Brunch Breakfast Stout). Top honors, however, goes to the Mother of Dragons Smoked Porter. This beer teeters between mocha chocolate and subtle bits of smoked cherrywood. Nicely done. Cheers and as always theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App will guide you to Black Flag and other Maryland breweries.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Murrieta's Well Snooth Virtual Tasting with Winemaker Robbie Meyer

On July 19th Snooth co-founder Mark Angelillo and Murrieta’s Well winemaker Robbie Meyer participated in a video tasting of four Murrieta’s Well's wines while also discussing the history of the Livermore Valley winery. The winery traces its history back to 1883 with the planting of imported cuttings from France and the building of a gravity-flow winery into the hillside. In 1990, Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso revived the 92-acre property, and renamed the winery in honor of Joaquin Murrieta who discovered the estate in the 1800s.The well refers to the Artesian well where Murrieta and his band of desperados watered their horses.  The estate's 500 acres lie in the middle of the valley in generally gravelly soil with morning fog cooling the grapes before the start of a typical sunny day. The grapes for the four wines were harvested exclusively from these estate vineyards, blended from different blocks that exhibit slightly different soil types and mesoclimates.

Murrieta’s Well The Whip White Wine Blend Livermore Valley 2014 ($24 - 29% Semillon, 27% Chardonnay, 18% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Orange Muscat, 8% Muscat Canelli, 6% Viognier) was aged sur lie for 12 months with 30% of the wine aged in used neutral French oak barrels. This process enhances the wine’s general texture and mouthfeel.  The tangerine aromatics from the muscat grapes are potent, followed by creamy apricot & citrus flavors (thanks to the  Semillon& Chardonnay), and finishes refreshingly acidic. Quite nice.

Murrieta’s Well The Spur Red Wine Blend Livermore Valley 2013 ($30 - 40% Petite Sirah, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 8% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Malbec) was aged for 24 months in French oak barrels, using a combination of new and previously used barrels. The result is a complex wine with chewy cherry flavors, some spice and chocolate with smooth tannins. Drink now and often.

Murrieta’s Well Chardonnay Small Lot Livermore Valley 2014 ($44) is made from isolated own rooted Ernest Wente clone. The wine was fermented slowly in barrel with native yeast and aged sur lie - once again enhancing the wine’s general texture and mouthfeel. Yet the oak doesn't overwhelm the wine, leaving the creamy chardonnay citrus flavors to acquire the spotlight. Textured and refreshing acids. And extremely nice wine.

Murrieta’s Well Cabernet Sauvignon Small Lot Livermore Valley 2013 ($58 -75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 5% Petite Sirah, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Merlot) was aged for 20 months in 70% new French oak. This is a meaty and juicy wine with some dustiness and lingering smoothness of dark chocolate. The acidity and strong tannins allow for long aging. Decant accordingly.