Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bottling Frozen Falls Vodka at Falls Church Distillers

This past Saturday I participated in a "bottling party" at Northern Virginia's Falls Church Distillers where we filled and labeled 325 bottles of Frozen Falls Vodka ($30). This spirit is based off a wheat and sugar cane mash bill and after fermentation is cut to 80 proof using water filtered and purified at the distillery. In fact, Falls Church Distillers also filtrates their drinking water and ice to achieve a "pure" environment for sipping cocktails.

Before the dozen volunteers started bottling this fourth batch of Frozen Falls, chief distiller Lorenzo Paluzzi demonstrated each phase of the bottling process. It starts with a shot of air into the empty bottle, which is then filled with vodka, inspected for any floaters, capped, sealed, labeled, inscribing the batch number, and finally boxed and sealed for bonding. Most of us rotated through a couple of these stations and despite a few label machine and pumping malfunctions we finished the task within an hour and a half. Then we moved to the distillery's tasting area for a refreshing Moscow Mule. Cheers to that.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

New Zealand Wine Pure Discovery

Earlier this month Wines of New Zealand hosted a seminar and tasting at the NZ Embassy titled New Zealand Wine Pure Discovery. The discovery manifested itself not only with New Zealand's two signature grapes, but also by the breadth of grape varieties and their differences across wine regions. Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer joined Sauvignon Blanc as reliable white wines whereas Syrah emerged to partner with Pinot Noir to express Kiwi red wines.

As for the wine regions, they extend 1,000 miles from sub-tropical Northland down to Central Otago, home to the world’s most southerly vineyards. Marlborough is the flagship wine region, situated in the northeast corner of the South Island and experiencing a sunny and dry climate. Marlborough is notable for its Sauvignon Blanc as well as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and the Aromatics: Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. There are also three sub-regions producing unique variations of these wine varietals -- the Wairau Valley, Awatere Valley, and Southern Valleys.

Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand's second largest wine region with it's temperate climate located in the southeast of the North Island. Red Bordeaux and Syrah grapes thrive in the porous soils particularly in the Gimblett Gravels. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir are planted in cooler regions such as coastal areas, river valleys, and Central Hawke's Bay.

Pure Discovery also featured wines from Nelson (north-central South Island), Central Otago (southerly South Island), Northland (extreme north North Island), Martinborough (extreme southeast North island), and North Canterbury (east-central South Island). This later region is home to Mt. Beautiful, producers of a wide range of delicious wines from Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris to Sauvigon Blanc, Riesling, and Chardonnay. Nelson was well represented by the excellent Neudorf Tom's Block Pinot Noir 2014 ($22) which combines weightiness with bright dark fruit, earth, and slight spices. Nelson is also home to the unique styles of Nelson's Mahana -- notable for their funky Feral Lahar Sauvignon Blanc Nelson ($35), Mahana Nelson Pinot Noir Rosé 2016 ($42), and complex Mahana Clays & Gravels Woolly’s Corner & Cornelia’s Nine Pinot Noir 2014 ($65). And in Martinborough,  Craggy Range showcased an elegant and rounded Te Muna Road Vineyard, Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($21).

Central Otago was populated by a plethora of outstanding wines starting with the elegant Maude Pinot Noir 2015 ($25) and the saline driven Amisfield Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($21). The Loveblock Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 ($30) and clean Mud House Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 ($15) are two tasty options. However the best in show for Central Otago was Felton Road who poured two fantastic Chardonnays in the Felton Road Chardonnay Bannockburn Central Otago 2014 ($34) and its companion the Felton Road Chardonnay Block 2 Bannockburn Central Otago 2014 ($46). Simply delicious. Felton Road also poured the sagy Dry Riesling Central Otago 2015 ($26) and aged Calvert Pinot Noir Bannockburn Central Otago 2013 ($43) and Calvert Pinot Noir Central Otago 2012 ($54). These wine labels are a mouthful.

Moving back to the major wine regions, the Trinity Hill Syrah Gimblett Gravels Hawkes Bay 2014 ($28) and Gimblett Gravels Hawkes Bay The Gimblett 2014 ($38) are simply outstanding. Trinity Hills was also pouring a lean Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($17) and clean Hawkes Bay Pinot Noir 2015 ($18). And the Geissen Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2016 ($15) is a fresh, value driven wine.

Geissen also represented Marlborough with dignity with the The Fuder Clayvin Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay 2013 ($65); but you can find more value wines in Marlborough through Brancott Estate, providing well made wines from $10 to $20. I wanted to note the Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Gewürztraminer 2014 ($25) which nails the style providing the spicy aromatics and flavors with abundant acids to balance the sugar. Nicely done. As for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, the lasting impression is that winemakers are moving away from the lemongrass profile towards the tart, lean and clean style of the Geissen Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($11) or the tropical velvety style as the Sacred Hill Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($17). Cheers to New Zealand Wine Pure Discovery.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Celebrating Parducci Wine Cellars 85th Anniversary with Special Cuvee 85 & a True Grit Vertical

Mendocino's longest running winery, Parducci Wine Cellars, opened 85 years ago this year. Now part of the Mendocino Wine Company consortium, the winery was founded by John Parducci and his family in 1932 - a year before the 21st Amendment was ratified. During that year of prohibition, 14 year old John rode alone on a rail car delivering grapes to home winemakers. Eventually he would become head winemaker at Parducci in 1940 while championing Zinfandel and Petite Sirah: "two grapes that would become a signature of Mendocino County". In 1994 Mr. Menodcino retired and in 1997 current winemaker Bob Swain was hired in his current capacity.

In honor of the winery's 85th Anniversary, Swain crafted the Special Cuvee 85 ($45) a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (69%), Merlot (18%), Petit Verdot (8%), and Cabernet Franc (5%). He chose the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in order to recognize John Parducci's expertise in making reserve wines from these grape varieties and the other two to celebrate Parducci use of estate grapes. The fermented wine is aged in various oak regimens including some new American oak. The wine is fantastic dark fruit throughout, a bit spicy, but ah so smooth,

The winery is also celebrating their True Grit series with a release of a three wine vertical of the 2004, 2005, and 2006 Petite Sirah vintages. Priced at $50, these wines are or were available DTC or in the tasting room on a limited basis. You don't get a chance to taste through a 10+ year old vertical and these wine show that Petite Sirah, the John Wayne of Wines, age nicely. The 2006 (92% Petite Sirah, 4% Grenache, 2% Syrah) was my favorite as it was still vibrant with a leathery plum aroma, slight spices, and a smooth and still acidic tail. Delicious. The 2005 (92% Petite Sirah & 8% Grenache) was also bright with solid fruit and acidity with spices enveloping the finish. And the 2004 (97% Petite Sirah & 3% Viognier) still had legs. Although the aroma is flatter, there is still sold fruit and enough acids to lift the tail. Not bad for a 13 year old wine. Swain and Parducci Wine Cellars prove that if you have the patience to cellar their Tru Grit Petite Sirah - it's well worth the effort.

Finally, Mendocino County is part of the devastating Redwood Complex Fire and I wanted to share a Parducci Facebook post:
From the Redwood Complex Fire in Mendocino and Lake Counties, South to Sonoma and Napa we have employees, family and friends that have been impacted by these devastating fires. We are thinking of all of the communities affected. We hope everyone is safe and our thoughts and strength are with you. While many of our employees have been under mandatory evacuation or gravely affected by the fires, we can confirm that we are all safe.
Thank you to all of those fighting the fires and helping those who have lost so much. We want to express our gratitude to the heroes within our local community, throughout California, and even across the nation that came to fight the Redwood Complex Fire in Mendocino county. They truly are lifesavers.
We are doing what we can to help locally, providing shelter and resources for displaced families and animals. The tide is thankfully turning as containment increases on all fronts, but the road to recovery will be a long one. Many devastated families and communities will rely on help to rebuild. If you would like to help, you may make a donation of any size to the following community organizations. 100% of the donations go to those in need.
• Disaster Fund for Mendocino County - www.communityfound.org
• Napa Valley Community Foundation - www.napavalleycf.org
• Sonoma County Resilience Fund - www.sonomacf.org
Thank you for being such a long-standing customer of ours, we appreciate you.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

10 Year Old Tawny Port and Grilled Cheese?

"Come here: Let me tell you a secret. Three little words that will win you the respect of wine lovers and help you understand why we seem capable of talking about nothing else. Aged. Tawny. Port. " - Dave McIntyre, Washington Post

I concur with Dave's statement and always enjoy a class of Tawny Port as an alternative or supplement to dessert. Aged tawnies come in ten year increments that reflect a port house's style and not a minimum, maximum, or average age. Thus a 10-year-old Tawny port is a taste that is reflected in oak aging, racking and blending. In general expect a mellow, caramel, nutty, and dried fruit character.  The marketing company suggested pairing with grilled cheese and I had to try - but first the port wines.

Warre's was the first British Port company - founded in 1670 -- and thus a pioneer as their Warrior brand is the oldest continuously bottled Port brand. The newer Warre's OTIMA 10 Year Old Tawny Port ($30) brand is made from the five traditional Portuguese grapes Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional -- all sourced from the Douro Valley's Quinta da Cavadinha and Quinta do Retiro Antigo regions. The OTIMA is a lighter style - but the wine packs plenty of flavor where the aging and oxidation provides abundant fruit and nutty character plus toffee with salted caramel. Nicely done.

In contrast the Graham's 10 Year Old Tawny Port ($36) is closer to Ruby than Tawny in color as well as a fuller body Think fruit cake with honeyed figs. The wine is composed of the same grapes as the OTIMA but sourced from a larger range of qunita's including the Symington family's private estates in Quinta da Villa Velha and Quinta do Vale de Malhadas. Once again, no need for food pairings to enjoy this delicious port wine.

While reading about Tawny Port, aged cheddar cheese is a commonly suggested food pairing so a grilled cheese sandwich doesn't seem far off. I chose swiss and cheddar, only because they were immediately available. Each wine's acidity cut through the cheese's fat and who's against a fruit, nut, cheese pairing because that is what you get. Plus why not have a glass of port with lunch. Seems like a good idea to me. Cheers.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Zachys Brings Fattoria Le Pupille to their Washington DC Opening

"Zachys built their brand as a purveyor of fine European wine, by identifying and making wines like these underrated and frankly undervalued examples from the Tuscan coastal region of La Maremma accessible to US consumers" Ryan: The Fermented Fruit

Last month I was introduced to Tuscany wine producer Fattoria Le Pupille. The occasion was the official opening of Zachys Northeast Washington DC location where the "purveyor of fine European wine" is now or will be offering bulk wine sales, a wine storage facility, auctions, and a venue for wine tasting events. All this from their new state-of-the-art 20,000-square-foot operations center that is both a refrigerated and temperature controlled warehouse and upstairs event center. I would recommend joining their email to receive special direct to consumer wine sales and special events like their October 24th Wine Extravaganza.

Le Pupille is a second generation family winery operating 12 hectares of vineyard in Morellino along the southern Tuscany coast of La Maremma. In the 1970s they were one of only a dozen wineries in the region and in 1985 at 20 years old Elisabetta Geppetti began managing the small winery. She quickly transformed the winery by incorporating modern winemaking and viticultural best practices. In 1987 they released their first Saffredi wine in which their 2012 vintage will score 100 points from James Suckling. The 1987 vintage was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the small Saffredi vineyard and was the first area wine made from only international varieties. Now known as the Lady of Morellino and the Ambassador of Maremma Geppetti was the first woman president of the Morellino di Scansano Consortium.

Her daughter Clara has inherited the winemaking role and traveled to the U.S. in order to share a few of their wines during the Zachys grand opening events. These wines are all well made, and other than the highly rated and expensive Saffredi, they are fantastic values available by the case at Zachys.
  • Poggio Argentato 2016 ($21) A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Mensang, and Traminer fermented in neutral oak. This is a luscious wine: floral and silky with balanced acids.
  • Rosamati Rosato 2016 ($16) A 100% Syrah rosé recommended as an aperitif with abundant strawberries and fresh acids.
  • Morellino di Scansano 2015 ($16) Predominantly Sangiovese, this is an introductory style red with a toasted and spicy aroma followed by very smooth and balanced tannins.
  • Toscana Saffredi (grandfather) small vineyard planted by grandfather, mother vilified alone, 1987 first vintage 100% CS. Ist in area to use intl grapes.
  • Saffredi 2012 ($125) A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 10% Petit Verdot this wine is still fresh. It is both powerful and velvety, with tobacco aroma, dark fruits, a deep body, and pleasant tannins and acids. If only I had that budget.
  • Saffredi 2014 ($85) Same blend as the 2012 classic vintage and aged 18 months in 75% new barrique casks, this wine is still young but velvety smooth with dark fruit, black pepper, and firm tannins. I would assume it will age just as nicely as the 2012.

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Trio from Napa Valley's Hess Collection

The Napa Valley winery, the Hess Collection, is now in its 32nd vintage with most of the wine produced from hillside vineyards such as Mount Veeder. In the mid-1970s, Donald Hess implemented a model to follow European practices and plant on "mountains, hillsides, ridges and bench lands". To accommodate the steep mountain slopes, the vines are planted to ridges which also forces the vines to struggle. I recently received the bounty from Mount Veeder in the Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley ($65.00). The small berries grown on Veeder provide intense fruit in the Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Verdot which comopse this wine. It is delicious - slightly spicy, with both red and dark fruit. The finish is firm, with solid tannins but smooth.

The Hess Collection's Allomi Vineyard is located in Pope Valley on the eastern base of Howell Mountain, a topography that provides rolling hills and well drained soils. The vineyard is sub-divided into 35 unique growing blocks with six different Cabernet clones. These clones are used in the Hess Collection Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley ($32.00); this is an approachable yet sophisticated wine with dark fruit, smokey spices, and firm tannins. Nicely done.

Su’skol Vineyard is the exception to the hillside model as the vineyard is located on flat land situated fewer than 10 miles from San Pablo Bay. The cooling marine influence provides morning fog and afternoon breezes that lower the average daily temperature - an ideal climate for growing Chardonnay like the Hess Collection Chardonnay 2015, Napa Valley ($22.00). Once again multiple clones are used -- providing balance between fruit and acidity. Since only a small portion is fermented in new French oak, the wine possesses depth without the overbearing buttery character. And a Napa bargain at this price.