Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Mititei, Barbecue, and Bodegas LAN

We have been eating Mititei for quite a while and for those unfamiliar with this Romanian Barbecue dish it is a mixture of beef, lamb and\or pork with spices rolled into cylindrical shapes. I use beef and lamb with prepackaged spices. Last year I learned that Croatians, Bosnians, and Serbs have a similar recipe called Ćevapi which they eat with Ajvar relish instead of spicy mustard.

And this year I discovered a very delicious pairing with Bodegas LAN Rioja Reserva 2012 ($20). The winery ages this 92% Tempranillo and 8% Mazuelo blend 18 months in hybrid barrels of French and American oak and 21 months in the bottle. And since 2012 is the latest release, the wine spends an additional four years conditioning in their cellar to be released at optimal potential.  This is a juicy wine where the bright cherries flow though the earthy depth and finishes with potent acidity and rounded tannins. Excellent on its own but with the Mititei, the two melt together.

Bodegas LAN suggests several other summer and barbecue pairings with more featured in their upcoming LAN Guide to Rioja. In the meanwhile here are four of their favorite Spanish dishes that are suitable with the classic wines from Rioja
  • Tomato salad. Tomatoes are in season during Spanish summers and make the ideal base for a tomato salad with fresh “pocha” beans. 
  • “Patatas a la Riojana” (Rioja-style potatoes). This dish features red pepper, chorizo, sweet and spicy paprika. It’s a specialty of the Rioja region and a favorite of the LAN team. 
  • T-bone steak. Just like the US, this type of cut is the king of meats that are made for robust Riojan reds. 
  • “Chuletada”. This Spanish dish is made from grilling lambs chops (chuletillas), chorizo, bacon and even sardines on the vine shoots.

Disclosure: We received samples from the Bodegas LAN in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Michigan Wine Collaborative's Riesling Roundtable

"There are about 3,100 acres of wine grapes in Michigan, and approximately 700 of them are Riesling, the largest acreage for any of our wine grape varieties. *However* Michigan can grow so many varieties well, we’ve hesitated to name just one as our official grape." -- Tweet from the Michigan Riesling Roundtable
Last month the Michigan Wine Collaborative (MWC) hosted this roundtable via Twitter with a number of Michigan winemakers and wine influencers. The MWC is a non-profit organization with the following mission "to enhance the sustainability and profitability of the Michigan wine industry by supporting wineries, growers and other businesses and individuals connected to the industry – today and for future generations". One vehicle to this end was the Michigan Riesling Roundtable where influencers could purchase Riesling from a handful of participating Michigan producers and discuss these wines online.
Riesling has long been a fixture in the Michigan wine scene where the first vines were apparently Tabor Hill Winery planted the first Riesling in SW Michigan in 1969, which then lead to the first large scale plantings by Chateau Grand Traverse. Michigan Rieslings are known for their acidity as the cool climate slows ripening and allows the grapes to retain acids. These wines also contain subtle characteristics of minerality with bright tropic and or stone fruit notes. And some of the winemakers mentioned that Riesling is harvested last - particularly in very cool growing seasons - providing further acidity and flavor. Here are the wines that we purchased for the event:

St. Julian 2017 Reserve Riesling ($9.99)
This off-dry Riesling (1.2%) abv packs intense stone fruit and tropical flavors layered with minerals and slight petrol. The wine's abundant acidity balances the sugar for an easy-drinking experience.

St. Julian Mountain Road Winery 2017 Estate Riesling ($21.99)
Completely dry, but robust tropical, stone, and citrus character, again with light petrol, and refreshing acidity.

Amoritas Vineyards 2016 Dry Riesling ($20)
Similar notes as the Mountain Road - excellent fruit, minerals, and fresh acids.

Amoritas Vineyards 2017 Semi-Dry Riesling ($20)
This was a family favorite as the wine impresses with a drier profile because of the acidity and provides plenty of stone and tropical flavors.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Missouri Wine: Kansas City and the Crossroads of Craft Beverages

Kansas City is located in the epicenter of the continental United States and practically equidistance to our borders in each direction. For that reason, the City of Fountains became a central transportation hub for people and livestock with the latter terminating at the Kansas City Stockyards. The stockyards originated on the Kansas side but quickly spread into Missouri and at its peak in 1923 2,631,808 cattle; 2,736,174 hogs; 1,165,606 sheep; 377,038 calves; and 42,987 horses and mules were received at the stockyards (1). Nearby the Crossroads neighborhood developed that supported the spoils of this industry with numerous buildings now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, such as the TWA Corporate Headquarters Building, Western Auto Building, and Firestone Building. However due to the devastating 1951 flood, by the 1960s, the large packing companies had closed most of their plants and relocated - severely affecting each neighborhood.

With the assistance of Visit KC and the Missouri Wine and Grape Board, our group extended our excursion into Missouri Wine with a visit to two wineries that have settled in a rejuvenated Cowtown and Crossroads Art District. I also spent free time walking to an assortment of breweries and distilleries closely clustered near our base at the Crossroads Hotel - a repurposing of a Pabst Brewing Depot constructed in 1911. At that time, "Percheron horse-drawn teams paraded the streets with wagons loaded with beer. When Prohibition came, KC political boss Tom Pendergast bought both buildings, using them as an office and, according to legend, to bootleg liquor". Here's a short overview of each craft beverage establishment.

Amigoni Urban Winery is situated in rejuvenated Cowtown, specifically in the historic Daily Drover Telegram Newspaper building in the Stockyards District of the West Bottoms. In 2000, Michael and Kerry Amigoni first planting Cabernet Franc in their Leawood, Kansas backyard and later more European vinifera vines in land purchased in Centerview, Missouri. After launching commercially and realizing the Midwest was an erratic location for vinifera vines, they sought a more consistent supply of grapes from California’s Central Valley. The fruit arrives within 48 hours of harvest at the Stockyards production facility where Michael produces a plethora of interesting wines including a Cinsaut, Barbera, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese. Blended with 20% Cabernet, Cinsaut was well represented in their 2017 Urban Cepages ($20) -- a fruitful, earthy and approachable wine. Their 2017 Tribute Series - Urban Drover ($25) is a 50-50 blend of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and memorializes the drover, a person who drives cattle or sheep to market. Expect more body and spices in this smooth wine.

KC WineWorks was the first full-scale production winery established in the Crossroads Arts District. James and Lindsay Lowery utilize only Missouri-sourced grapes, many from the estate vineyard first planted in 2002 in Lowery's great-grandfather's farm from the 1870s. These grapes include many of the traditional Missouri wine grapes such as Chambourcin, Norton, Valvin Muscat, Chardonel, and Vignoles but expect very non-traditional styles and packaging. For instance, KC WineWorks was the first in the state to release a canned wine, the Show Me Sangria using a Crossroads White wine base (Chardonel, Vidal Blanc, & Vignoles) augmented with natural strawberry, raspberry, pear, and prickly pear juices. They are also trendsetters in releasing a trio of single vineyard Chambourcin wines, showcasing the specific climate and geology of each site. Still more, the Lowery's have a sparkling wine program producing a Sparkling Rosé ($29) using Chardonel and a Pét-Nat ($26) - both delicious. Finally, hard cider is on the menu through their Hopped Apfel - IPA aromas with funky apple flavors. But let's not forget their traditional wines, the 2015 Reserve Norton ($27) is very drinkable, slight spices and deep cherry flavors - avoiding astringent and jammy characters. And the 2017 Vignoles ($19) is everything you expect from a Missouri Vignoles, tropical notes paired with refreshing acidity.

Mean Mule Distilling Co was frequently mentioned throughout our trip and was the impetus behind this walking tour of the Crossroads neighborhood. The references referred to their Silver Mean Mule American Agave Spirit, a rare example of an American made agave spirit. Not a Tequila by technical definition, this distillate, made from the syrup of 100% weber blue agave, possesses similar characteristics as its southern brethren. It lacks smokiness and funky - but packs plenty of smooth agave flavor. The distillery also resuscitates a family history of distilling as its name refers to the mean mule that stood upon the false floor hiding the family's distilling operation during Prohibition.

Lifted Spirits joins the Crossroads Hotel in once being associated with horses as the distillery was originally a stable for the Smith Brothers Steam Bakery. In the late 1800s, these horses delivered bread throughout Kansas City. Today Lifted Spirits utilizes grain in a different process, using soft red wheat from a small family farm in Wellsville, KS to produce French-inspired spirits like Absinthe. Their version includes wormwood and other botanicals and is served using the traditional French drip method with a Pontarlier glass and a sugar cube. I've learned to enjoy this spirit, both its history and flavor, and the Lifted Spirits Absinthe is no exception.

City Barrel was founded by a trio who had determined there was a missing link in the Kansas City brewing scene. As their website states, "No one was focusing on long-aged sours, crazy IPA’s and wild fermentation beers and creating a culinary experience". The tasting room is a literal work of art as the backdrop behind the bar is made from reclaimed wood from the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. And local craftsman built custom tables and chairs made of Missouri white oak -- the same wood as our Foeders sour beer tanks. And sours galore, there were four available and I selected the tasty Foeder Blend #1 - Missouri White Oak Foeder-aged golden sour.

Double Shift Brewing opened in 2015 by a local firefighter who practically ran double shifts in opening this five-barrel brewhouse.  The brewery is located in an old bicycle shop which provides another reference to the brewery's name. I drank a pint of their well made and refreshing Kolsch at the Percheron rooftop bar at the Crossroads Hotel and had a small pour of the Ordiata Horchata Milk Stout. It was creamy smooth and quite delicious.

Border Brewing Co is the handiwork of Eric Martens, who leveraged his home brewing and chemical engineer skills to open the brewery in 2015. Furthermore, he and his co-owner wife Tracy had to navigate the legal environment as they were the first brewery in Kansas City to brew and sell on-site with no kitchen and no beer distribution.  Their lineup covers most of the craft beer map and I focused in our their Pub Dweller Nitro ESB - just like being in a pub in London.

See other posts of this trip at Missouri Wine.

1) How KC became 1 of great stock markets of the world

Monday, July 15, 2019

Natural Wine at the Old Westminster Winery's Summer Solstice Festival

"Natural Wine is farmed organically (biodynamically, using permaculture or the like) and made (or rather transformed) without adding or removing anything in the cellar. No additives or processing aids are used, and ‘intervention’ in the naturally occurring fermentation process is kept to a minimum. As such neither fining nor (tight) filtration are used. The result is a living wine – wholesome and full of naturally occurring microbiology." -- Raw Wine

On June 22nd, Maryland's Old Westminster Winery hosted the inaugural Summer Solstice Festival featuring natural wines from across the globe. The event was held at the winery's Burnt Hill Farm which is their second vineyard but the first farmed using biodynamic practices. Once mature, the harvested grapes will be processed with little or no intervention in the cellar and Old Westminster will produce Maryland's first natural wines.

But what is Natural Wine? When asked, representatives at the festival provided multiple definitions starting with either organically or biodynamically farmed grapes and finishing with various levels of winemaking intervention. Some stressed the importance of using zero sulfites which are used as a preservative and stabilizer. Others believe that a minimal amount of sulfites are allowable right before bottling but not during other stages of the winemaking process. Most representatives stressed the use of native yeast although some were inoculated with yeast cultures. Many of the natural wines were cloudy as a result of non-filtering whereas others were clean which suggest the use of a clarifying agent such as egg whites or isinglass (made from fish bladders).

As a result of these various practices, the wines were quite diverse ranging from cloudy and funky to clean and very traditional. I tended to prefer the latter as I felt the funkier styles provided excuses for traditional winemaking faults such as volatile acidity and reduction. These "faults" are counter-intuitive in the same wine since reduced winemaking is a method to prevent volatile acidity by reducing the amount of oxygen available for bacteria to create acetic acid.  However, in some cases, the reduced notes did not blow off after swirling and remained in tandem with the vinegar notes. In other wines where the effects of reduction did blow off, the funkiness sometimes overwhelmed the fruit flavors. But in the natural wine world, when the fruit and funk mingle more gracefully, the wines are greeted with acclaim.

During a pre-festival #WineStudio Twitter tasting that ran through June, we sampled the contrasting styles with the Old Westminster 2017 Home Vineyard Cabernet Franc and their 2018 Heirloom. Whereas both were bottled unfined and unfiltered the Cab Franc provided a more traditional profile full of fruit flavors with balanced tannins and acidity. I wish more East Coast wineries could replicate this excellent wine. On the other hand, the 77% Chardonnay, 12% Albarino, and 11% Muscat blend in the Heirloom was funkier in style perhaps from fermenting with native yeast and took quite a few sips to comprehend. I am well acclimated with this style in cider and beer - but not so much with wine.

So quite naturally at the Summer Solstice, I drifted towards the more traditional wines starting with Oregon's Brooks Winery. The Estate Vineyard for this Williamette Valley winery was certified by Demeter for Biodynamic farming principles in 2012. And in the cellar, they utilize low intervention winemaking practices but release very clean and traditional wines as evident by the Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. These wines are delicious and represent the grape profiles perfectly. Brooks also provides an original profile indicator on their website which displays color-coded bar charts representing aroma and flavor.

Nearby, the Georgian Wine House was pouring similarly delicious wines from this ancient country located in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. The Georgian winemaking tradition is known for using qvevri vessels to ferment and age the wine. If a white wine is aged with prolonged skin contact then the resulting wine becomes light orange in color with more depth in flavor. Naotari Winery specializes in this technique and the family operation (Koba Kvatchrelishvili and his two sons, Rezo and Alex) releases the Khikhvi Blend 2016 natural wine. This blend of Rkatsiteli, Kisi, and Khikhvi is fermented with native yeast, is unfiltered, and undergoes zero intervention or added sulfite. Yet it is full of stone fruit aromas and flavors with no traces of volatile acidy or reduction.

Similarly, Chona’s Marani Winery is another family venture producing natural wines like the Rkatsiteli 2017 and Mtsvane-Rkatsiteli Blend 2017. Pure, clean, and delicious wines. Finally, sisters Baia and Gvanca showed two excellent wines in the Baia's Wine and Gvanca's Wine with Baia focusing on white wine and Gvanca red. The Gvanca's Wine Otskhanuri Sapere 2017 exudes sour cherries and not in a funky way. The Baia's Wine Tsolikouri 2018 is also fermented with wild yeast, unfiltered, and uses very low levels of sulfites that provides clean citrus and apple flavors with refreshing acidity.

Traveling towards the Mediterranean there was another brilliant natural wine from Turkey imported by Siema Wines. Mustafa Çamlica founded Chamlija Winery in "2000 in the small Thracian town of Büyükkarıştıran, and planted his vineyards throughout the decomposed granite soils of the Strandja Massif, near where Turkey meets Bulgaria". At the festival, Siema poured this winery's Papaskarasi Rosé - a rare indigenous Turkish grape variety. This delicate wine provides a soft texture to its strawberry profile finishing with refreshing clean acids. And the distinct label was drawn by Çamlica's daughter Irem - a renowned artist in Turkey.

Siema poured another clean and textured wine, this time from the Friuli region of Italy. Borgo San Daniele is operated by the brother and sister team of Mauro and Alessandra who do not use chemical products in their vineyard and minimalistic techniques during vinification. Their Mauri Vignaioli Friulano (formerly called Tocai Friulano) is complex with a soft fruit and almond profile and finishing with elegance.

So cheers to these clean and fresh natural wines and Old Westminster Winery for hosting a fantastic event. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Gonzalez Byass La Copa Vermouth - What Would Hemingway Do?

"That evening the priest from Henry’s mess comes to visit. He brings some presents for Henry: a mosquito net, a bottle of vermouth, and some English newspapers. Henry invites the priest to share some of the vermouth with him. The priest breaks off the cork on trying to open it and must push the cork down into the bottle. He sees this as a personal disappointment. " Chapter 11 Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms
"'Let's have some vermouth then' I said. 'Tell Bolo to bring out the bottles'. We had the tall glasses with mixed French and Italian vermouth (two parts French to one of Italian, with a dash of bitters and a lemon peel, filled with ice, stir and serve)…" Esquire article, "There She Breaches! or, Moby Dick Off the Morro" published in May 1936
Most characters in Ernest Hemingway's novels were not shy of alcohol and these references often mimicked Hemingway's own preferences in libations. This included an exceedingly Dry Martini with just a splash of Dry Vermouth and the Vermouth Panache - a cocktail featuring dry and sweet vermouths with Angostura Bitters. I thought about these drinks after receiving a sample of two La Copa Vermouths from Gonzalez Byass - both based on original recipes and designs dating back to 1906. The earlier La Copa brand was produced from 1896 to 1926 - so perhaps Hemingway quaffed some of these wines in his early years.

The concept of Vermouth is as old as the Ancient Greeks as Hippocrates mixed wormwood flowers (wormwood = vermout in French) with fraxinella leaves to create an herbal wine. Today Vermouth is known as a low alcohol fortified and aromatized wine produced either dry or sweet. The beverage has been produced in Spain's Jerez region since the 19th century and Gonzalez Byass helped create that older tradition and was an early advocate in Vermouth's current renaissance.

The base for the new La Copa Vermouth is an Oloroso Fino sherry which is produced by oxidative aging. The wine is fortified early, suppressing the flor yeast which typically protects against oxidation. The sweeter La Copa Rojo Vermouth ($24.99) is an eight-year-old blend of 75% Palomino and 25% Pedro Ximénez with traditional botanicals including wormwood, cinnamon, orange peel, and nutmeg. The dry La Copa Blanco Vermouth ($24.99) is made from a base of 100% Palomino aromatized with various herbs, dried fruit, and spices -- including wormwood.

It was initially suggested to sample each of these vermouths over ice which provides a refreshing start to experience these wines. The Rojo shows a nice balance between the fresh aromatics and the bitter-sweet core where the spices continue throughout and provide an unanticipated drier finish. The Blanco is more bitter with the herbal aroma merging into a bitter almond core. And very refreshing.

But what would Hemingway do with these wines? I went to the resident expert on Hemingway's drinking preferences Philip Greene and his To Have and Have Another Revised Edition: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion for cocktail suggestions.

Vermouth Panache
This was easily my favorite cocktail playing with the ratio's where I enjoyed 3-1 dry to sweet instead of the recommended 2-1. Hemingway drank this in tall glasses filled with ice - enjoy all day.
3 oz. Dry Vermouth
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
1 Dash Angostura Bitters

Hemingway's Dry Gin Martini
I used my special Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin as the base and added a splash of the La Copa Bianco. The botanicals slightly enhance the gin's juniper and honey but expect a solid gin cocktail.
2 oz Dry Gin
Splash Dry Vermouth

I tried to versions the first using the River Hill 100 Proof Bourbon Whiskey and La Copa Rojo to create a high octane and this worked quite well. The vermouth's botanicals seemed to contain the alcohol's heat and made for a pleasant cocktail. In the second version,  I used  Palmetto Whiskey and La Copa Bianco. I also liked this alternative -- lighter in style and didn't require the bitters.
2 oz Bourbon or Rye Whiskey
1 oz Sweet vermouth
2 Dashes Bitters

Hemingway's Josie Russell
This has always been my favorite cocktail, so refreshing and unique. At times I have substituted apple brandy for the cider and that's what a did for numerous iterations using the La Copa Vermouths. My first attempt was using either the Rojo or Bianco with equal or lesser amounts of Falls Church Distillers Apple Brandy and quickly learned that vermouth and apple brandy don't align. I then substituted the cider with vermouth for better results. I found that 2 oz Springfield Manor Patriot Spirit Rum mixed with 1 oz La Copa Rojo creates an interesting spiced rum.
4 ½ oz. Rum
12 oz. Hard Apple Cider
2 oz. Fresh Lime Juice

Disclosure: We received samples from Gonzalez Byass in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Missouri Wine: Norton - Missouri's Official State Grape

The Norton grape has been the backbone of the Missouri wine industry through the industry's rise in the second half of the 19th century and the modern era. It was a Norton wine that was declared the "Best Red of All Nations" at an 1873 International competition in Vienna, Austria - a feat repeated in several other subsequent world fairs. At the same time nurseries, such as Bush & Son & Meissner near St. Louis, were propagating the grape throughout the Midwest and most likely France too. These Missouri nurseries are credited with saving Europe’s vineyards in the late 19th century after the phylloxera crisis by supplying disease-resistant rootstock. A major reason for its popularity is that Norton vines are very hardy and vigorous, resistant to numerous vine diseases and other growing problems such as downy mildew, powdery mildew, and bunch rot.

Post-prohibition, When Jim and Betty Held purchased the old Stone Hill Winery in 1965 - a winery that was once the second largest winery in the U.S. - they made Norton the lynchpin of their operation. Today it is the pride of their winery, as well as many other Missouri wineries, as Norton wine has become the most popular varietal wine in the Show Me State. It's easy to see why the Missouri Wine and Grape Board designated Norton Missouri's signature grape.

During our three day tour of the Kansas City area Missouri wineries, our group tasted several Norton wines representing various styles and geographic regions. In some instances, the wine was labeled Cynthiana which DNA suggests is the same grape but perhaps a distinct clone. The most widely produced styles are the big and bold reds that provide concentrated blackberry and dark cherry flavors and subtle spices, with the best versions taming the highly acidic and astringent character of the grape. Although Norton wines are low in tannins, the high acids encourage cellaring where older Nortons acquire a rounder profile with notes of chocolate and vanilla. Here are some of the group's favorite Norton wines.

Maureen Blum - MoWino
The St. James Winery Winemaker Series Norton 42 spoke to me at first swirl, sniff and impactful sip! As with many Norton wines, the dusty terroir flowed along in the long finish but it was the ripples of bright dark fruits that created a silky elegant sip to savor. Holding its own, the wine pairs beautifully with rich deep chocolate cake.

Katie Van Luchene - author of Insiders' Guide® to Kansas City and self-professed KC’s head cheerleader
During a tour of Stonehaus Farms Winery in — yes, Lee’s Summit, MO — owner and winemaker Brett Euritt described how he makes his port from estate-grown Cynthiana (also known as Norton, the state grape of Missouri), which is finished with California brandy and aged in charred bourbon barrels. The grapes provide notes of cherries and dark chocolate; the last step adds a smokey finish. I was impressed enough during the tasting to purchase a bottle (the $23 price was impressive as well). I’ll invite friends over for Port on the Deck where I’ll serve dark-chocolate truffles from Kansas City’s Panache Chocolatiers and Jerry will offer cigars from his humidor.

Sarah R. Jaquay -  wine and craft beer contributor to TheWineBuzz
Some of my favorites were Vox Vineyards 2014 and Cross J 2013--produced by Stone Hill Winery in Hermann. I purchased Cross J at the Merc and sampled it back home. The Cross J has aromas of chocolate and dark berries followed by robust fruit flavors with a dry finish. The oak comes through from beginning to end and it paired beautifully with grilled lamb chops.

Todd Godbout - WineCompass and theCompass Craft Beverage Finder
I agree with all of my fellow participant's recommendations and actually returned home with a bottle of the St. James Winery Winemaker Series Norton 42 and Stonehaus Farms Winery Cynthiana Port. My shipment home also included the Adam Puchta Winery 2016 Estate Norton grown in the historic homeland of Missouri wine, Hermann. This is a big boy, full of dark fruit and still abundant acids. I plan on allowing it to rest a couple years to tame the acids and anticipate a well-rounded wine with solid fruit and subtle spices and chocolate.

See other posts of the trips at Missouri Wine.