Monday, December 30, 2019

Dry Petit Manseng Ascends in Virginia During 2019

"Petit Manseng is one of the key white grape varieties of South West France. Used predominantly in Jurancon and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, it is most commonly vinified as a richly sweet wine with stonefruit characters such as peach and apricot, citrus and sweet spice." --
Twenty years ago, two Virginia wineries planted plots of Petit Manseng using cuttings from Virginia Tech’s Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center experimental vineyard near Winchester.  The extension agents recognized that the grape's thick skins and loose clusters would be advantageous during Virginia's humid summers.  Soon afterward Jennifer McCloud of Chrysalis Vineyards petitioned the precursor to the Alcohol and Trade Tax Bureau (TTB) to approve Petit Manseng as a valid grape variety so that the grape's name could be used on a wine label. However, before approval was granted,  Horton Vineyards was able to label their first Petit Manseng vintage as that grape name because it had submitted the wine label as a place name and not as a grape name. Pretty sneaky. Over the succeeding years, Petit Manseng made small strides in the Virginia wine industry, but primarily as a dessert or off-dry offering as its inherent acidity balances residual sugar -- reminiscent of Riesling.

However, today it is dry Petit Manseng that has elevated the grape to public consciousness within the Commonwealth as two were included in the 2019 Governor's Case Club. During the 2019 Denver BevFluence Experience, we received samples of these wines which consisted of the Governor's Cup winning Horton Vineyards Petit Manseng 2016 ($25) and the gold-winning Michael Shaps Petit Manseng 2016 ($30). What makes these wines exceptional is that they maintain the grape's inherent bright tropical characters and provide a newly discovered depth and weight. he Horton version includes five percent each Viognier and Rkatsiteli which help explain some stone fruit character and both were fermented primarily in oak introducing Burgundian techniques.

These two wineries are linked with other interesting facts. In 1991, when Horton's first crop was harvested, they leased Montdomaine Cellars as a production facility for the next 5 years and used the Montdomaine trademark during that period. In 1995, Michael Shaps moved to Virginia to work at Jefferson Vineyards as head winemaker and general manager and in 2007 he and a partner purchased that same Montdomaine facility to open Virginia WineWorks. And recently longtime Horton winemaker Mike Heny, who started production of the 2016 Horton Petit Manseng, left in late 2017 for a similar position at Virginia WineWorks. Heny was then replaced by Andy Reagan who conducted the final blending trials for the Petit Manseng and it was Reagan who had previously succeeded Shaps at Jefferson Vineyards. Plenty of winemaking talent making the rounds in Virginia. Cheers to 2019.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Tenth Ward Distilling Company and Christmas in Frederick

Christmas is celebrated in remarkable fashion on December Saturday nights in Frederick Maryland with lighted streets, smores stations, photo ops, boat lights, and local craft beverages like those produced by Tenth Ward Distilling Company. The name “Tenth Ward” is a reference to the division of Frederick City during the late 19th century and recently the distillery moved to that city's historic epicenter: near Patrick and Market Streets. On a placard located just down Patrick Street from Tenth Ward is a copy of the only known photograph of Confederate troops as they marched through Frederick, most likely on their way towards either Antietam or Gettysburg.

This woman-owned distillery - thanks to Monica Pearce -- produces an interesting range of spirits like Smoked Corn Whiskey, Caraway Rye, Genever Style Gin, Applejack, and Absinthe. This last shows its quality by turning cloudy and releasing aromatic while using the French method of a water drip with a sugar cube. The Smoke Corn Whiskey was polarizing with most overwhelmed by the firepit flavor, yet I thought it had an interesting Mezcal feel. Its main focus seems to be as a cocktail ingredient like the Perfect Penicillin and Triple Smoked Toddy.

Like our previous post on The Albeisa Bottle, in this age of global conglomerates dominating the inputs to the craft beverage industries, Tenth Ward support local farmers and industries. All the grain is grown and malted at Ripon Lodge Farm in Ripon West Virginia. The apples are sourced from local McCutcheon’s Apple Products.  Other local sources are Orchid Cellar for mead and Hay’s Apiary for honey. Used barrels are obtained from Fredericksburg's A. Smith Bowman Distillery whereas new barrels are derived from Michigan's The Barrel Mill. And finally, as most craft beverage bottles are produced by three international conglomerates, Tenth Ward sources their bottles from Piramal Glass out of the Park Hills, MO manufacturing plant.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and cheers to a safe and healthy New Year.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Albeisa Bottle - A BOCG for Langhe

Photo Credit: Please The Palate
Alba, Asti, Barolo, Barbaresco, Dogliani, Langhe, and Roero. These are a few of the iconic Piedmont regions where, in the late 18th-century, wine producers desired "a unique and recognizable bottle of their own, a Bottiglia d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (BOCG) for their own wines. And requested it from the master glaziers of the renowned Vetrerie di Porino firm just outside the city of Turin". This effort lead to the Albeisa Bottle - a hand-made bottle, produced piece by piece, and included elements of the popular a Bordeaux and Burgundian bottles. The bottle enjoyed a brief period of popularity but suffered due to ill timing as the industrial revolution ushered in large scale glass manufacturing pricing the Albeisa Bottle out of existence.

Photo Credit: Please The Palate
That changed in 1973 when 16 wine producers resurrected the "BOCG" of the Langhe region not just to reproduce "an old bottle but rather that of tying it to a territory and regulate its use within the confines of that territory. The new 1973 version indicates its name in a clear and precise way through letters in relief on the glass repeated four times on the shoulder of the bottle in order to be seen from any viewpoint. Its use is governed by the 'Association of Producers of Alba' which indicates how it can be utilized along with details on which appellation (DOC-DOCG) wines it can contain". There is also just one legal glass manufacturer - Verallia - the successor to Saint-Gobain Vetri.

Since that 1973 moment, the organization has grown from the 16 original members to over 300 member associates. These voluntary members of the association must adhere to strict requirements such as using an Albeisa bottle at least once a year for - an only for - wines made from grapes grown within the Langhe denomination and furthermore have a production facility within Langhe.

Earlier this month, the Albeisa Association told this story through a trade tasting of various wines using the Albeisa bottle.  This tasting featured Arneis, the white wine grape once on the verge of extinction, the difficult cultivar Dolcetto, the acid lovers Barbera, and the royal Nebbiolo. These wines represented Langhe, Dolcetto d'Alba, Dogliani, Roero, and  Barbera d'Alba - among several others.

I was immensely impressed with the friendly, fruit-forward, and fresh wines from Barbera d'Alba.  These wines are characterized by low tannins, high acids, and an accompanying rich and bold fruit context. Some excellent examples were from Franco Conterno, Diego PressendaAscheri, and Punset. Those who enjoy fruit-forward wines with a little more tannic structure should seek out Dolcetto d'Alba. Diego Pressenda, La Ganghja, and Punset provided solid contributions from this region. Finally, the Nebbiolo from Barbaresco stood out. These are approachable wines but with ample acids and tannins to hold for aging if one has patience. Once again look to La Ganghja and Punset. Cheers.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Bodegas Fundador Pedro Domecq Brandy de Jerez

We've been augmenting our eggnog with Portuguese or Spanish brandies this Christmas season; they just seem to blend in nicely.  This Bodegas Fundador Pedro Domecq Brandy de Jerez ($22) should be widely available as this is Spain's largest export brandy. Fundador is the oldest bodega in Jerez, founded in 1730 and they were the first brand to be marketed as "Brandy de Jerez" in 1874. Hence the Domecq family choose Fundadour which translates to founder.

 The brandy itself is made from the Airen grape with lesser amounts of Palomino. The distilled spirit is then aged in the traditional Solera system in used sherry casks. At the price, there's plenty of rich flavors complimented by the smooth finish with little burn.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Belgium Beer: Gueuze Lambics with the Gueuze Tilquin à l’ancienne

Belgium has provided the world with a plethora of historic beer styles most likely because the industry wasn't hampered by government degrees like the German reinheitsgebot. Their brewing history, starting with Trappist Monks, has supplied us with Dubbel, Tripel, Quad, Saison, Witbier, Flanders Red, Belgian Dark Strong Ale, Belgian Blond Ale, Belgian Pale Ale, Belgian Golden Strong Ale, Oud Bruin, and Lambic beer styles. American consumers most likely think that the last style must contain fruit, however, that is not necessarily so. In fact, Lambics can be further segmented into framboise (raspberries), kriek (cherries), straight lambics, and gueuze.

Gueuze beers are created when blenderies purchase freshly brewed worts from different producers, combine them into oak barrels, and allow them to naturally ferment. Then 1, 2 and 3 years old lambics are blended together and because the young lambics are not fully fermented, the blended beer contains fermentable sugars, which allow a second fermentation to occur in the bottle. The end result is the "Champagne of Belgium" which tends towards a yeasty slightly sour and barnyard profile.

One of the most prolific producers of this style is Gueuzerie Tilquin -- the only gueuze blendery in Wallonia. Their flagship beer is the Gueuze Tilquin à l’ancienne (7% abv) which starts as wort brewed by Boon, Lindemans, Girardin and Cantillon. The blended worts are then fermented and matured in oak barrels at the blendery. After blending the different years, the lambics are then allowed to re-ferment for six months in the bottle.

One local Northern Virginia restaurant, Rustico, carries this beer in different size bottles from 37.5cl ($45) to a magnum ($90).  The profile is very bready - almost grainy with a slightly sour core that stays through the tail. This finish also exhibits a dry tannic bitterness that should be alluring to wine drinkers.  Starting Friday, December 13 Rustico is hosting their annual 12 Days of Christmas Beers where all bottles are 50% off. Since Gueuze beers are priced on the high side, this is a great opportunity to sample these delicious beers. Cheers.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Why is Saint Nicholas the Patron Saint of Brewers?

St. Nicholas giving dowry gold
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
And that is not a rhetorical question, I honestly do not know why Saint Nicholas is considered one of the many patron saints of brewers? Today, December 6th is the feast day for this Greek saint who eventually morphed into the Nordic Christmas legend. Nicholas was born in the Greek city of Patara in the late 3rd century to wealthy parents and was raised in Myra - a port city now known as Demre, Turkey. Tragically his parents died during an epidemic and Nicholas was raised by his uncle - the Bishop of Patara.

The youngster vowed to distribute his inheritance through works of charity and his most well-known effort led directly to his reputation for giving gifts and indirectly to a possible claim for being the patron saint of brewers. Here is Catholic Online to describe the traditional story of the Gift of Gold for the Three Daughters.
An opportunity soon arose for St. Nicholas and his inheritance. A citizen of Patara had lost all his money, and needed to support his three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty; so the wretched man was going to give them over to prostitution. Nicholas became informed of this, and thus took a bag of gold and threw it into an open window of the man's house in the night. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl and she was soon duly married. At intervals Nicholas did the same for the second and the third; at the last time, the father was on the watch, recognized his benefactor and overwhelmed Nicholas with his gratitude. It would appear that the three purses represented in pictures, came to be mistaken for the heads of three children and so they gave rise to the absurd story of the children, resuscitated by the saint, who had been killed by an innkeeper and pickled in a brine-tub.
Saint Nicholas
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
Afterward, Nicholas would be ordained a priest and be elected Archbishop of Myra where he was tortured, exiled, and imprisoned by the Romain authorities. He was eventually freed with other Christians when Constantine converted to the faith and Nicholas served the remainder of his life as Archbishop of Myra. During that time so many miracles and good deeds were attributed to his intercession that he became known as the Wonderworker. After Nicholas passed on December 6, 343 he was buried in Myra's cathedral church where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. According to the St. Nicholas Center, "this liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas". For close to 750 years his remains served as a pilgrim destination. But, depending on your point of view, on May 9, 1087, his relics were stolen or rescued after Constantinople fell to the Saracens. The thieves or liberators were sailers from Bari. In that Italian city, Nicholas' relics were buried in a new church: the Basilica di San Nicola.

From Bari, both the factual and legendary stories surrounding Nicholas spread throughout Europe. The resuscitation myth led to paintings of Nicholas surrounded by children which in itself led people to conclude he was the patron saint of children. And combined with his gift-giving, St. Nicholas Day became an early advent fixture in European countries where behaved children's boots were filled with candy and toys. On the other hand, naughty children received a visit from the Krampus and a literal tongue lashing. In America, the Dutch Protestants of New Amsterdam turned the saint into the Nordic magician - Santa Claus.

Great story, but what about brewers? None of the classical authors associate Nicholas with beer or brewers. One modern discernment concludes that the images of Nicholas shown with a barrel led people to conclude that he was the patron saint of brewers. Flimsy. Maybe even too flimsy to raise a beer in his honor. Instead, sip a Turkish Arak, the distilled spirit made from grapes and aniseed or a glass of wine from Puglia perhaps the Gioia del Colle DOC. In any case, cheers to Saint Nicholas.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Follow the Old Valley Pike to Box Office Brewery

Looking for a Hallmark Christmas destination that has the one important feature that these movies lack? I'm referring to a craft beverage establishment like Strasburg Virginia's Box Office Brewery.

Craft beverage establishments have been repurposing abandoned buildings in small towns throughout the U.S... In the Shenandoah Valley, the owners of Box Office Brewing renovated the defunct Strasburg Theatre which was originally built in 1918 as the Strand Theatre. They reused both internal and local materials including a 1930s Lucky Strike bowling lane for the main bar.

As for beer, the Old Valley Pike American Pale Ale is solid and is named after US Route 11 that runs in front of the building. The road was previously the Old Valley Pike, a dirt road originally used by the local Indians then predominantly by troops during the Civil War. The German styled Prohibition Pilsner is also exactly what one would expect.

But if you are really lucky the Curtain Call Coconut Porter is still on tap. The name speaks for itself. Cheers.