Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Route 15 Wine Road: Warrenton's Powers Farm & Brewery & Granite Heights Winery

Just south of Gainsville, through Warrenton and into Culpeper, Route 15 merges with Route 29 and runs through rolling hills in one corner of Virginia's wine and horse country. This is Fauquier County where the roads and rail lines were major trade thoroughfares as well as a highly prized transportation hubs fought over during the Civil War. During one of these battles, Bristoe Campaign (October - November 1863), troops fought just east of Warrenton in Auburn - a short detour off the main road.

While navigating this detour look for Powers Farm & Brewery in Midland, a very unique craft brewery. As it's name suggests, Powers is a working farm and not just hops, just look at their Produce CSA. As for their field beers they use on-farm ingredients such as hops, herbs, fruits, vegetables, plus foraged bark and berries. Each of these non-standard ingredients add different characters to the beer but never overwhelm the base flavor. For instance The Saxon Schwarzbier is brewed with farm grown chicory which enhances the dark malt flavors with adds even more roastiness.  The Birch Brown Ale includes black birch tree trimmings that are added three separate times during the brewing process. This adds a little spice up front that balances the slightly sweet malty tail. Two other original and unique recipes are The Pollinator Irish Red Ale and The Heirloom Belgium Dark Ale. The former is brewed using seven different malts plus native Virginia Hawthorne berries which provide a sour cherry character to to the mixture. And the dark ale is brewed with farm grown dried heirloom tomatoes melding peppers and sweetness to the dark and yeasty character.  Finally, the Hibiscus Blonde Ale provides slightly tart and floral attributes to create a very refreshing beer. Now you can understand why Powers Farm & Brewery is a highly recommended detour off Route 15.

Not too far away lies another farm, the 200 acre farm land of Granite Heights Winery in which Luke and Toni Kilyk purchased in 1997. With the assistance of Lucie Morton they planted vines in order to leverage Luke's undergraduate degree in chemistry and home wine making experience. The first wines using all estate grapes were released in 2010 and since then the winery has become well known for their Petit Manseng and Lomax Reserve Bordeaux blend. I was able to taste verticals of these wines during a recent vitiCULTURE trade tasting. Petit Manseng is generally produced in a dry or off-dry style and the Kilyk's let the harvest dictate the style of each vintage. In 2015 the grapes were harvested a little early and the wine vinified dry. This 2015 Petit Manseng ($22) is light and fresh, tart, with a tropical - pineapple character. The following year's 2016 Petit Manseng ($19) was made off-dry and weighs in at 4% residual sugar. However, the wine comes across much drier as a result of the grape's abundant inherent acidity; it also shows less aroma and the flavor is more orange-citrus than tropical. Two completely different wines and I preferred the dry 2015 version.

The Lomax Reserve wines are only produced in exceptional years and since the winery stresses quality over cash flow, the Kilyk's will age a vintage in the bottle until the wine is ready for release. In this regard the 2013 Lomax Reserve was released before the 2012 vintage. A wise decision as the '12 joined the '10 as Governor's Cup Case Club wines. During our tasting we sampled all three of these years starting with the 2013 Lomax Reserve ($24) a blend of 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon aged 20 months in American oak. This wine has a solid mid-palate with a soft finish. The 2012 Lomax Reserve ($35) is the winery's current release and is a blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot aged 20 months in various oak casks. It is a delicious wine with bright cherries, texture, integrated tannins, and a long soft landing. Well done. Finally, the Governor's Cup Case Club 2010 Lomax Reserve ($59) is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc aged 15 months in mostly American oak. This is still a big wine, much more tannins so swirl away. There's a big smokey aroma, spices and dark fruit, and finishing chewy and mouth drying tannins.

There are other wineries and breweries in the Warrenton area and we will return to these using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder in the coming months. Cheers.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Album Review: Nora Jane Struthers and the Breakfast of Champions

Nora Jane Struthers first surfaced on my radar many years ago at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion as a bluegrass performer and her album Carnival was the pinnacle release in that phase of her career. After losing track of her, she re-surfaced this month with her band The Party Line at Jammin Java featuring a more intense and dynamic alt-county rock sound. The tour was supporting Champion, their current release that showcases this new sound which at times - particularly live - has a Drive-By Truckers guitar feel (See Grit). This is a tight band that reflects not only Struthers' vocals but the multi-instruments performed by husband Joe Overton. We're talking pedal steel, fiddle, and banjo that compliments perfectly with guitarist Josh Vana, bassist Brian Duncan Miller, and drummer Drew Lawhorn. Yet, two of my favorite tracks feature Struthers' sweet and pure vocals in Show Me and Just A House.

The album is highly recommended but even better, see this band live. And if possible, grab a can of Hog Waller Scramble, a breakfast stout brewed by Charlottesville's Champion Brewing Company. The beer is brewed with coffee and chocolate and is creamy and velvety packing a punch at 8% abv. Wonder if Struthers was sipping this beauty when penning Let's Get The Day Started Right. Works for me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Barrel Tasting at Maryland's Catoctin Breeze Vineyard

We returned to Catoctin Breeze Vineyard last weekend shortly after our ski visit in order to attend a club barrel tasting event. The session was led by winemaker Mike Lentini who had pulled barrel samples of four future releases. The first was an upcoming rosé made from gently pressed Chambourcin grapes grown by a grower in Maryland's St. Mary's County. This vineyard benefits from sandy soils and marine coastal influences and is in an area that Dr. Joe Fiola (Extension Specialist in Viticulture and Small Fruit for the University of Maryland) has championed for years. This Chambourcin rosé is already delicious and showcases the versatility of the fruit. It is light and fresh with plenty of acids and is no comparison to the Syrah rosé wine currently on display. Expect an early summer release.

The tasting then turned to three reds starting with a Petit Verdot, sourced from the same St. Mary's vineyard. This will be a big wine, huge, with hoards of jammy dark fruit, abundant tannins, and juicy acidity. The current condition of the wine reflects the grape's thick skins and natural acidity and will benefit tremendously with additional barrel aging and bottle conditioning. Expect an early winter 2018-2019 release. A future estate grown Cabernet Franc is in a similar condition. It is big and raw with plenty of flavor and inherent pepper characters. Mike believes that Cab Franc is the future for Maryland red wine (I saw a similar pattern with their southerly neighbor) and the winery intends to capitalize on their productive estate vineyard. Expect the same release schedule as the Petit Verdot. The final red was the future vintage of Concerto, their signature Bordeaux blend -- which in this release will be majority Cabernet Franc, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. This wine is ready now, even out white wine preferring friends easily quaffed this delicious blend. Expect, I believe, a fall 2018 release.

By chance during a tour of the events area, Mike happened to spot a floater in a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that was being stored for a spring-summer release. This is another wine that I preferred more than the current release available in the tasting room. It is fresh, citrus - but not lemongrass - with a nice saline character. Perhaps another sourced from St. Marys?

After a round of sampling through their Sweet ($8) and Signature ($10) wine tastings I wanted to comment on the meads. The have three honey wines available, all from a large 2010 vintage and each has a touch of sweetness without any clawing sugary aftertaste. The Honeymmon ($25) is blended with orange juice and feels like fall whereas the Amber ($23) is spiced with Christmas flavors. Both are solid meads. However we came home with a bottle of the Dolce Vita ($24), a melomel mead made with blackberries. The berry flavors are prevalent with the sweet honey kicking in near the tail. Nicely done.

When leaving we decided to also tour the three covered bridges in Frederick County all within 10 miles of the winery. In fact, the closest, Loy's Station, is only a half mile past the winery on Roddy Road. These are impressive structures which even Civil War soldiers respected while marching through the area. After theCompass Craft Beverage Finder navigates you to Orchard Cellars continue to these bridges. Cheers.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Lunch With The Hess Collection: Mount Veeder, Su’skol and Salta

"When I first saw these hills of Mt Veeder, I was attracted by its beauty", Donald Hess founder of the Hess Collection Winery

But Hess also believed that good grapes were grown on hillsides as was his experience visiting the great wineries of Europe. And on Mount Veeder the vines are virtually clinging to the sides of the mountain and the AVA is the highest and coolest in Napa. Thus in 1978 Donald Hess, whose Swiss pedigree included generations of Bern brewers, acquired his first parcels on Veeder. These holdings gradually expanded to 900 acres plus 125 acres leased from the historic The Christian Brothers -- who had already been leasing several historic winery buildings to Hess since 1986. And in 1995 Hess planted the Su’skol Vineyard in Napa Valley closer to the cooling influences of the San Pablo Bay.

I learned these facts and many more during a luncheon this week at BLT Steak that was sponsored by the Hess Collection Winery - with Nicole Carter (Chief Marketing Officer and ​Director of Winemaking) and CEO ​John Grant. Over several wines they discussed all aspects of the winery from its historical roots, current fifth generation leadership, sustainable viticulture, the Hess family's support of the arts, the Napa fires, and the entire Hess Family Wine Estates portfolio -- comprising The Hess Collection, Artezin, MacPhail Family Wines, Colomé and Amalaya. Here is the background of the wines poured at the event as well as more information concerning the portfolio. Cheers.

2015 The Hess Collection Napa Valley Chardonnay ($22) - made from Su’skol Vineyard grapes where the vineyards are cooled by the morning fog and afternoon breezes generated by the San Pablo Bay -- located 10 miles away.  Only 30% of the fruit undergoes malo-latic fermentation in which the process provides a mild dose of creaminess and lift without becoming overbearing. Instead, the floral aromatics, green apple flavors, and bright acids dominate the experience.

2015 The Hess Collection The Lioness Napa Valley Chardonnay  ($60) - the Hess Family crest and credo is “live each day with the heart and courage of the lion” and this wine was named to honor the Hess women. Sourced from the best lots in the Su’skol Vineyard, the juice was barrel fermented and only selected barrels participated in the final blend. This is a powerful, yet fresh Chardonnay where the texture derives from ample lees stirring. It also exhibits a minty character and finishes with considerable length. Wish it was in the weekly budget.

2015 The Hess Collection Napa Valley "Allomi" Cabernet Sauvignon ($32)  - the grapes are sourced from the winery's Allomi Vineyard located in the warmer Pope Valley. The wine includes 6% Petit Sirah which Ms Carter states "keeps Sauvignon from going flabby". This wine is pure pleasure, full bodied dark fruit, structured, integrated tannins and persistent acids.

2016 Colomé Autentico Malbec ($25) - represents even more Wines with Altitude from historic Bodega Colomé which was founded in Salta Argentina in 1831. The winery and estate vineyard are located at 7,545 feet above sea level and operates three other vineyards ranging from 5,750 (La Brava Estate) to 10,200 (Altura Máxima Estate) feet above sea level. This last could be the highest vineyard in the world. The Hess Collecton's original winemaker Randle Johnson is the consulting winemaker for Colomé and the team produces an "autentico" Malbec which translates to unoaked. This method showcases the fruit with it's cherry pepper nose, big flavor profile, subtle but noticeable tannins (thick grape skins) and dominating acids. Nicely done.

2015 The Hess Collection Napa Valley Lion Tamer Red Blend ($45) - what a unique blend of Malbec (50%), Zinfandel (23%), Petite Sirah (11%), Cabernet Sauvignon (6%), Petit Verdot (4%), Merlot (4%), and Mouvedre (2%). The Lion Tamer refers specifically to Malbec as Hess utilizes the grape to tame tannins from other varieties. According to Carter, the secret ingredient was the Mouvedre which contributed just enough bright fruit to ignite the palate.  This is one juicy wine with the own rooted Malbec loaded with flavor and the other grape varieties adding additional nuances. So different, so very different.

2013 The Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon ($65) - derived from the estate Vedder Hills Vineyard situated from 600 to 1,120 feet above sea level where several of the historic blocks had been replanted. The blend includes 18% Malbec which apparently is needed to tame the additional tannins from 22 months of predominately new French Oak aging. Peppermint greets the nose, followed by multiple layers of fruit, vanilla, and spices. And as all the wines, lively acidity lengthens the finish.

2014 The Hess Collection The Lion Cabernet Sauvignon ($185) - this is the winery's highest end Cabernet Sauvignon and most likely out of a majority of our budgets. It surfaces only during signature vintages using selective fruit from their Mount Veeder vineyards. The blend includes 17% Malbec and 1% Petite Verdot and undergoes a similar oak treatment as the Mount Veeder Cabernet. This wine equals structure as the juice melts in the palate with a tail lift from spices and acids. No doubt, a special treat.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Doctor Wine's The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine 2018

To understand Italian wine you must study the regions -- Daniele Cernilli, aka DoctorWine
Daniele Cernilli stressed this point at a luncheon at Maxwell Park in Washington D.C. celebrating the release of The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine 2017 - his comprehensive guide book devoted exclusively to Italian wine. That's a huge undertaking as Italy is arguably the most diverse wine country in the world. You could say this quote also explains the rational behind such a comprehensive undertaking as it is delineated by region and also includes descriptions of hundreds of wines, most under $20 in the U.S. market.

But why must you study the regions in order to understand Italian wine? "Because the same grape variety is made in completely different styles depending on those wine regions". This was evident during our lunch as Cernilli poured Sangiovese wines from four wineries representing four different wine regions.

Torre San Martino is located in the Emilia-Romagna DOC, more specifically their 10 hectares vineyard is located in Tosco-Romagnola. The owners restored a Sangiovese vineyard appropriately named Vigna 2 and replanted ungrafted Sangiovese vines and the resulting Romagna Sangiovese Vigna 1922 Reserva DOC 2013 was excellent with multiple spicy sensations and noticeable tannins in it's lengthy finish. However, for our sample they poured the Romagna Sangiovese Superiore Gemme DOC 2013 which possesses dusty soft fruit and abundant acids. According to Cernilli, the acids are much more important to this wine than the tannins.

The second Sangiovese in our sample was from Fattoria Le Pupille, a second generation family winery operating 12 hectares of vineyard in Morellino along the southern Tuscany coast of La Maremma. The family is mostly known for their Super-Tuscan Saffredi wine but don't overlook their Poggio Valente IGT Toscana Rosso 2015. This 100% Sangiovese wine comes from the Poggio Valente vineyard located 900 feet above sea level. Although the region is generally warmer than Chianti, constant breezes help prevent disease pressure. This is an elegant wine, predominately cherry with more tannin structure to augment the balanced acidity.

Moving to Chianti, Querciabella is located in the historical demarcation of that region in Chianti Classico. The winery started farming organically in 1988 and was certified biodynamic in 2000. The estate vineyards are located 1,300 to 1,650 feet above sea level so the vineyards are even cooler than expected. The Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2015 is aged in barrique casks for a year and the result is brighter fruit, slightly more spice, and lingering finesse.

The final Sangiovese was the Le Macioche Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010 from Famiglia Cotarella. The Cotarella is also known for their 100% Merlot Montiano Lazio, other wines from Lazio and Umbria, as well as the recently acquired Azienda Agricola Le Macioche estate in Brunello di Montalcino.  This Sangiovese holds a couple advantages over its companions starting with the obvious difference in age. Then there's the Brunello -- a strain of Sangiovese grown only on the slopes around Montalcino – the classic hilltop village in Tuscany that is located 20 miles south of Siena.  This is a magnificent wine - intense and powerful - spices and juicy tannins.

Besides the above mentioned wines, there are a few others I'd like to highlight. First, my favorite of the afternoon was the Bertani Amrone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2008 a blend of 80% Corvina Veronese and 20% Rondinella. Once again the wine was blessed by several years aging in barrel. This wine is intense, yet elegant; wild, yet restrained. An instant classic. The Vincho Vaglia Serra I Tre Vescovi Barbera d'Asti Superiore DOCG 2015 was another wine that wanted to be heard with it's zinging acidity, dirty texture, and fresh red fruit. Finally there were two other excellent wines from Querciabella, their feminine Mongrana 2013 ( 50% Sangiovese, 25% Merlot, & 25%  Cabernet Sauvignon) and more powerful yet sophisticated Turpino - an unexpected blend of Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Merlot.

The tasting also including several sparkling and white wines. The former were well represented by Lombardy's Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta cuvées. The Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 2007 is named after Annamaria Clementi, who along with her husband Albano founded the winery in 1962. This sparkling wine spent over eight years on its lees resulting in a creamy textured wine - but with surprisingly zest. The Franciacorta Vintage Collection Brut shared a somewhat similar blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, and Pinot Nero and exhibits considerable finesse.

 Moving to still wines, the Vincho Vaglia Serra Il Griso Roero Arneis DOCG 2016 is an oddity in the since that the grape almost went extinct in the 1960s.  The wine's floral aromas leads to a soft stone fruit center and and slightly acidic tail. Very nice. Finally I was able to revisit the Fattoria Le Pupille 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.

Cheers to Italian wine and Doctor Wine's The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine.