Thursday, December 17, 2020

Hiking with #theCompassCBF: Keys Gap and Loudoun County Wine Country

For those who are interested in a moderate hike in Loudoun County's wine country, then take Route 9 - Charles Town Pike to the West Virginia border and hike the Keys Gap section of the Appalachian Trail. You won't find spectacular views but be comforted that afterward there will be a tasty beer, wine, or cider within arm's reach. 

We started our post-hike tour heading west into Charles Town, WV where Abolitionist Ale Works awaited. The brewery has fared well enough during the outbreak to produce a lineup of 20+ interesting beers - with many brewed for the Christmas season.  These include the  Keg Nog (Bourbon Barrel Aged) Imperial Cream AleWild Wit Christmas American Wild AleLiquid Bread Pudding American Wild AleDirty Santa Beard (Cognac Barrel Aged) Stout - Imperial / Double, and the Abo Xmas Brandy Barrel-Aged Strong Ale. We brought one of each of these home as well as the Dirty Sidecar (Cognac Barrel Aged) Stout - Imperial / Double, the Apple Brandy Barrel West by Quad, the Blackberry Sage Gin Barrel Aged American Wild Ale, and the Abolitionist Ale (1 Year Barrel-Aged) Farmhouse Ale. I opened this farmhouse ale last night and the Brett provides delicious funkiness mixed with tart sour cherries and a little red wine. Expect plenty of updates on social media as we drink through these beers.

Traveling back into the Virginia, Notaviva Craft Fermentations and Bozzo Family Vineyards are the two closest east of the border. Over the years Notaviva Vineyards has expanded beyond wine -- adding beer and cider to their portfolio. I had targeted Notaviva for their "Vierzig" Blaufrankisch ($21) an estate-grown blend of 75% Blaufrankisch and 25% Cabernet Franc. This has been a winning blend in the Finger Lakes and should hold true in Virginia. I also felt I needed a lighter and more traditional craft beer after the Abolitionist visit and chose a 4-pack of their "Fröehlich" Kölsch. I opened a can on my return home and it's very well made with a slightly bready character and enough hops to liven the finish. 

Bozzo Family opened just two years ago and produces all its wines from estate fruit sans their two Petit Manseng where the grapes are sourced from a neighboring vineyard.   I left with a bottle of their Alma ($25), a wine named after their mother, and which is a dry 2018 Viognier.  I also chose one of their dueling Petit Mansengs, a rising commodity in the Virginia wine industry, and in particular the dry style. That was the Lisa & Thad SO ($25 and named after their daughter and son-in-law) and a dry 2017 Petit Manseng which was aged in steel and French oak for 18 months - the ("SO"). The other Petit Manseng is the 2018 Patricia which was fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel for about 5 months. 

Truthfully, I hadn't planned on visiting Walsh Family Wine although Nate Walsh is a prominent winemaker and provided an entertaining and educational tasting series while at Sunset Hills Vineyard. However, in a divine fashion, the Route 9 detour around Hillsboro led me straight to the winery.  Nate interacts with a wide range of grape varieties in there were Petit Manseng, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and a collection of red Bordeaux styled wines.  I chose a bottle of their 2018 Walsh Family Wine Viognier ($30) because -- it's a Virginia Viognier. 

While heading to Keys Gap and before Hillsboro I had noticed a new brewery which turned out to be the 3-month-old Harvest Gap Brewery.  There were dozens and dozens of thirsty patrons huddled in small groups throughout the spacious grounds sipping and eating from the inhouse kitchen. For my first real drink of the day, I selected a sampler and found a quiet outdoor table nearer the road.  I went with the Mad Black Cow, Nitro Milk Stout, Heavy "D" Sour AleHappy Pils Pilsner, and the recommended 52 Dakota West Coast DIPA. That was a very drinkable double IPA, with the mango and vanilla providing a bit of a milkshake feel without the lactose. The other three were also solid beers - ready to make Harvest Gap a destination in itself.

The final, and previously planned stop, was to Corcoran Wine & Cider where Lori Corcoran had signaled new ciders were on the horizon.  Over a bottle of a recently bottled PoPo Peach, we discussed family, cider, Loudoun wine as Blu met new friends.  Lori also let me taste the now bottled and released Corcoran Hard Cider, a fresh, tart, and effervescent cider where the apple flavors are prominent. The PoPo is easy drinking with the stone fruit providing a little depth.  With a handful of ciders, I also came took home a bottle of her 2012 Waterford ($40) - a white port-styled wine made from 100% Viognier and aged seven years in whiskey barrels. How unique. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Picaroon Single Barrel Rum from Blackwater Distilling™

Heading to or from the Delmarva beaches leads to the Bay Bridge, Kent Island, and a chance to taste and tour Maryland's oldest post-prohibition distillery: Blackwater Distilling™. They were founded in 2008 and gained traction with their Sloop Betty Handcrafted Wheat Vodka - a vodka labeled "Produced and Bottled by Blackwater Distilling” since they don't actually distill the vodka or the cane sugar (Cachaça) used in this unique blend. 

On the other hand, their Picaroon Maryland Rum is labeled with "Distilled and Bottled by Blackwater Distilling" since the rum is distilled entirely onsite using raw cane sugar based on the French Caribbean tradition. And the cane juice is fermented using a yeast strain that was isolated during a natural sugar cane fermentation in the island of Martinique and at temperatures present on that island.  

Blackwater traditionally releases three versions of this Picaroon Maryland Rum, a White, Gold, and Dark. Interestingly, the Gold is colored using caramel made in-house (the distillery is a stickler for quality).  The Dark is a barrel-aged Picaroon Rum, which has been stored in new, 53-gallon, charred, American oak barrels. During bottling the rum is mellowed by blending in some of the un-aged Picaroon White Rum. 

More recently, the distillery has released a new member to the family -- the Picaroon Single Barrel Rum. As its name implies, all bottles in the series come from a single barrel and each batch is one-of-a-kind, labeled with handwritten barrel and bottle numbers.  I purchased a bottle and am baffled with each sip. Don't misunderstand. It's very good, but the complexity reminds me more of a soft whiskey with a hint of cane sugar sweetness.  The 50% abv is tempered somewhat by cinnamon and other baking spices and overall, a very intriguing rum.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Landing Craft Beer in Lewes Delaware

For a couple years now a neighbor has been bringing home and sharing delicious sour beer from his weekend visits to Lewes, Delaware. Eventually, I found time to see where these beers call home during a weekend at the beach.  In 2018, Big Oyster Brewery was named the Brewers Association's Second Fastest Growing Brewery and their beer is available throughout the Delmarva peninsula and as far north as Allenton and west to D.C. I arrived at the Big Red Barn after the lunch crowd and had a quiet seating to revisit sours such as the Black Lips Blackberry Sour Ale and the Donut Kill My Vibe - Blueberry Lemon kettle sour. Both delicious beers. So was the "Gobsmakced" Hazelnut Porter which is a dry English porter with just subtle hazelnut intermixed with the expected porter flavors. However, my favorite beer was the simplest. The German styled Public Pilsner is a light yet flavorful bready pils where a growler goes well with bing watching college football on a Saturday afternoon.

Crooked Hammock Brewery is located less than a mile down the road which makes a beer tour very convenient.  They have also expanded into Middletown, Delaware and North Myrtle Beach providing easy access to Route 301 commuters and Coastal Carolina visitors. In Lewes, expect a large restaurant, possible live music (finally), and plenty of beer.  I went through a double flight of four and recommend the Lift Ticket Golden Stout for something very interesting (pleasantly less sweet than expected) and the Pass the Sauce Apple Cranberry Cobbler Sour.  Thanksgiving in a beer.  The "5" Hazy DIPA is solid and only 8% abv whereas the everyday beer - particularly during a gold outing - is the Four Tires, Two Friends, and a Radio American Lager.  Grab a six-pack of this beer. 

If you want to add a distillery and winery to your trip, Beach Time Distilling and Nassau Valley Vineyards are nearby, just check their hours before you visit. theCompass Craft Beverage Finder has directions and their contact information. Cheers.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Hiking with #theCompassCBF in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains

Cunningham Falls State Park and Catoctin Mountain Park are neighboring state and national parks located in the Catoctin Mountains in Thurmont, Maryland.  They are physically separated by Route 77 and offer trails ranging from easy to challenging with the moderate CMP Wolf Rock and Chimney Trail and the easy CFSP Cunningham Falls Lower Trail the most popular.  Last week we hiked the 3.4 mile Wolf Rock and Chimney Trail and added 1.4 miles by including the Thurmont Vista. Next time we will embark on the Catoctin Mountain Extended Loop Trail that includes all three of these overlooks plus the CFSP Cunningham Falls Lower Trail. And another beauty of these parks is that several wineries have sprung up near their borders. Travel northwest and you arrive at Red Heifer Winery. Head just north of Thurmont to Catoctin Breeze Vineyards. Or drive a little southeast to Links Bridge Vineyards. 

Red Heifer Winery is a 56-acre estate situated at 1,500 feet, an elevation where the grapes are allowed to cool after the hot summer day. The winery had previously been a peach and apple orchard farmed by the current owner's grandparents and the first vines were planted in 2010. These vines are a diverse set of vinifera, hybrids, and a couple native labrusca. Last year I had tasted several of their wines, remembering their 2017 Winemaker's Reserve Cabernet Franc and dry 2017 Vidal Blanc in particular. On this visit, I simply picked up a bottle of their estate-grown 2017 Blaufrankish ($28) -- because it's a Blaufrankish.  The winery has a nice winter covid set-up with bubbles and firepits. However, only 21 and up hikers permitted.

I had to stop by Catoctin Breeze Vineyards for a wine club pickup which featured, once again, a dry Vidal - this time the 2019 Intermezzo Vidal Blanc ($24).  The other wines were the 2018 Concerto Bordeaux Blend ($45) and the 2018 Opera Merlot ($36).  These last two reds wines salvaged from the horrible rainy 2018 growing season where the winery had to drop all of their Syrah and most of their Cabernet Franc.  Catoctin Breeze is a great spot to just hang out with weekend live music, food trucks, and usually an abundant portfolio of wine. 

Another spot to hangout, particularly on their patio on the Monocacy River is Links Bridge Vineyards. These long-time growers usually for Old Westminster Winery moved into the winemaking space a few years ago and are known for fantastic estate-grown Cabernet Franc. On this first time visit, we sat at a table next to a fire pit and enjoyed a fall tasting flight. The 2016 Cabernet Franc Bin 10 ($28) is made from grapes grown on their Riverside Vineyard where the oak doesn't overwhelm the fruit. Once again a dry Vidal was available - this time the 2016 Dry Vidal ($18) which is a good example of how Maryland winemakers are able to coax plenty of flavor and acidity from complete fermentation. The 2019 Chardonnay ($25) was also a solid wine, composed of grapes from both the Hillside and Riverside vineyards and with a fruit-forward and fresh profile.  Can't wait to return in the spring for some fishing and wine. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Somló Juhfark

Courtesy of Kolonics Pinceszet
At 507 hectares, Somló is Hungary's second smallest wine region with Tihany being the smallest. Somló is basically a single hill that was an active volcano millions of years ago when the Pannonian Sea covered what is now central Europe. Today the hill is populated by multi-generational small family farms that were not confiscated during communism. Collectivized and socialist agriculture never gained a foothold in Somló thanks to its small size and the hill's steep slopes. These were inaccessible to machines and large-scale agricultural methods.

Many of these small farms are vineyards planted in the rich volcanic black basalt soil that helps winemakers create minerally driven wines. The soil also helps warm the grapes during chillier days by absorbing heat and then radiating it back towards the vines. Juhfark, in particular, requires this warming because it's thin skins are prone to rot and are very sensitive to frost. It also needs plenty of sunshine to fully ripen which tends to occur on the south-facing slope. For these reasons, Jufark is the "iconic variety-of-choice" for local winemakers.  Its name translates to "sheep's tail", "juh" translating to sheep and "fark" to tail and describes the shape of the dangling grape clusters. 

The origins of Juhfark are unclear. Some believe it was conceived on this hill. Others believe Styria, in neighboring Austria, is its homeland.  Regardless, Somló Juhfark is known for being elegant, balanced, and full-bodied. One such wine is the 2018 Kolonics Winery Somló "Nimrod" Juhfark ($25) available from Taste Hungary. The grapes come from southeastern facing vines that were aged in the 1,060 liter "Nimrod" barrel made from new Hungarian oak. Winemaker Karoly Kolonics names his wine after the barrel in which they aged. This Juhfark reminds me of Fall, a little rustic; with some stone fruit and apple notes, minerals, and smoke; and lifted slightly by a fresh finish. The wine also has plenty of depth and soaking on its skins for 6-12 hours after pressing and from oak fermentation. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Malvasija Dubrovacka

Previously believed to be distinct cultivars Malvasia delle Lipari, Malvasia di Sardegna, Greco di Gerace (Italy), Malvasia de Sitges (Spain) and Malvasia dubrovačka (Croatia) displayed an identical molecular profile when analyzed by 15 SSR markers. Ampelographic comparison supports the genetic analysis indicating that they are all the same variety; they do not differ in any important morphological trait. This genotype is scattered all over the Mediterranean area and as far as the Canaries and Madeira. -- Malvasia delle Lipari, Malvasia di Sardegna, Greco di Gerace, Malvasia de Sitges and Malvasia dubrovačka  - Synonyms of an old and famous grape cultivar

As its name suggests, the Croatian synonym for this grape, Malvasija dubrovacka, is dominant near the southern Dalmatian city of Dubrovnik. Malvasija dubrovacka is an ancient grape with the earliest written documentation dating back to 1385 (Archive of the Republic of Dubrovnik). Andro Crvik (Crvik Vinogradi & Vinarija and third generation of winemaker) says the wine was "used to honor the 'most excellent' visitors to the Republic of Dubrovnik and was served as a diplomatic wine". South of the historic walled city, in the village of Konavle, these vines are planted from 550 to 3,300 yards from the Adriatic. Crvik continued, "... the small berries and loose clusters usually produce wines with higher alcohol. In good years, the wine can be stored for 15 to 20 years, in some situations even longer".

When in Dubrovnik, examples of Malvasija dubrovacka, like the Crvik Tezoro, are available at the Malvasija Wine Bar. Or you can travel just south of the Dubrovnik airport to visit Crvik Vinogradi & Vinarija and the small karst fields on the south side of Konavle where their Malvasija dubrovacka vines are planted. Karst fields are formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks like limestone meaning well-drained soils. Combined with abundant sunshine and tempering effects from the sea - they create an ideal grape growing environment.

I received this 2019 Crvik Tezoro Malvasija Dubrovačka ($29.00) from Croatian Premium Wine Imports and plan to stock on more in the near future. The senses are immediately stimulated by the floral and orange blossom aromas which are followed by a complex mixture of lime and buttery depth and ending with a slowly rising finish. Plus, the 14.3% abv feels more like 12%. An excellent wine.

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Miss Vicky Wine from Château des Moriers, Fleurie, Beaujolais

After a hiatus, we are continuing our Hopwine series from samples received over the summer and highlighting excellent Gamay wines made at Château des Moriers in Fleurie, Beaujolais and branded as Miss Vicky Wine.

Beaujolais is located in eastern France, immediately south of Burgundy, and is best known for its Gamay wines through Beaujolais Villages, Beaujolais Nouveau, and the ten Beaujolais crus - subregions recognized as the finest in Beaujolais. One of these outstanding areas is Fleurie often referred to as "The Queen of Beaujolais".  

"Fleurie is in the center of the ten Beaujolais crus. It lies just south of Moulin-à-Vent and Chénas and to the north of Morgon. Chiroubles lies just to the west. Vineyards face south and southeast overlooking the Saone River valley and are shielded from cold northwesterly weather systems by the hills to the west of the Beaujolais region. The region receives abundant sunshine hours as the grapes are slowly cooled by gentle influences from the Mediterranean Sea in the south. This ensures that ripening is slow and steady, leading to a balance of acidity and flavor in the grapes.  

Fleurie vineyards are generally planted on pink granite soil. But variations in textures and additional soil components give rise to different styles of wine. On the higher slopes within the appellation, the soils are made up of coarse, dry sand. This absorbs and reflects heat, aiding the ripening process. Wines produced from these vineyards are known for their delicate aromas. Vineyards lower down the slopes tend to have a higher proportion of water-retaining clay. This gives wines from these sites a slightly denser, more-structured style of wine." (1) 

Vines were first planted in Fleurie by Benedictine monks during the early Middle Ages. More recently, in 2005, Gilles Monrozier took over the nine-hectare family vineyard  -- a plot of sand and pink granite first planted with grapes by his ancestors 200 years ago and located in far northern Fleurie bordering Moulin-à-Vent.  More recently Gilles' daughter Anne-Victoire, a wine blogger, developed the Miss Vicky Wine brand in order to first highlight her family's wines and eventually other French winemakers and regions. 
Fleurie o Joie 2018
The wine is 100% Gamay from grown in different lots in the vineyard in front of the château.  Floral and fruit-forward.

Fleurie Fleurs des Champs 2018
The wine is 100% Gamay from grown in different lots in the vineyard in front of the château. It contains bright floral notes with earthy cherries with a dose of minerality.  One easy-drinking, delicious wine. 

Fleurie La Brirette 2015
The grapes derive from a one-hectare lot called La Brirette which is within the  Les Moriers sub-region. These wines are known for their bigger structure, depth, and spiciness and the La Brirette 2015 does not disappoint. It is dense with a plethora of spices which somehow lead to an elegant wine. 

Moulin-à-Vent Vielles Vignes 2014
This is a blend of two vineyard sites just over the border into Moulin-à-Vent. One sits on granitic soils, the other on sandy clay. The juice is fermented and aged in 400L barrels for about one year leading to complexity and a velvety texture. This wine melts in the mouth. Exceptional.


Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Celebrate Martinje Virtually at the Croatian Embassy

November 11th (12th in the Eastern Church) is the Feast of St. Martin of Tours, and although he is the patron saint of France, St. Martin still receives devout reverence in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. He was born in Pannonia (present-day Szombathely, Hungary) in the early 4th century and after being baptized into the Catholic community and leaving the Roman army, Martin became a missionary in the provinces of Pannonia and Illyricum (now in the Balkan Peninsula).  Staying true to the Nicene Creed, he was forced out of Illyricum by the Arians and eventually returned to Gaul where he was made bishop of Tours.

During his years as Bishop, Martin nurtured an immense love for wine and began blessing the beverage in order to make it more popular among laypeople. Throughout Europe, this tradition has continued with winemakers giving thanks to St. Martin for a good harvest - and especially in Croatia, where Martinje celebrates the day that must, or young wine matures into wine fit for drinking.  But before indulging the wine must first be baptized and turned into chaste wine, since must is considered impure.

This year the Croatian Embassy in Washington D.C. along with Croatian Premium Wine Imports (CPWI) are celebrating Martinje through a virtual tasting on November 5th, 2020 at 6PM E.T.  The event will start with a conversation regarding the winemaking tradition and the blessing of the wine followed by a virtual wine tasting of wines from the Croatian Uplands, Istria and Dalmatia. The guests include the Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia, His Excellency Pjer Šimunovic, three-time Croatian National Champion and wine judge, Siniša Lasan, and the winemakers from Medimurje, Istria, and Dalmatia. They will be tasting two white and two red wines: Štampar Pušipel, Hažic Graševina, Ritoša Teran and Terra Madre Barrique Plavac Mali.

I will be participating in a little different scope. I will be comparing the Terra Madre Barrique Plavac Mali ($19) with the Wines of Illyria Plavac Mali ($20). The grapes are grown in a similar area -- the Komarna AVA in Croatia vs Herzegovina Bosnia. Plavac Mali wines are high in alcohol and tannins, has excellent aging capabilities, and is the offspring of Crljenak Kastelanski (Tribidrag - Zinfandel) and Dobricic. The latter is an ancient grape and may have been available during Martin's retreats to the Dalmatian coast.  Both Komarna and Herzegovina enjoy a Mediterranean climate with the Terra Madre grown directly on the Adriatic and the Illyria further inland from the sea between Mostar and Medugorje. 

Cheers to Martinje, Croatia, Herzegovina, and St. Martin of Tours. 

Note: Although it is too late to have the wines shipped to you in time for this event, CPWI will continue to honor through Saturday 11/7 a discount of 20% off for those wines. Go to CPWI, and when checking out enter the discount coupon code MARTINJE20 for home delivery to most states in the USA. Please allow about a week for delivery.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Gonzalez Byass Sherry & Candy - A Halloween Treat

Who likes Halloween candy and wine? Or in this case, sherry? Our friends at Gonzalez Byass wanted us to explore this concept through three of their sherries: Alfonso Oloroso, Nectar Pedro Ximénez, and Harveys Bristol Cream. These wines were all produced at their Jerez distillery in Spain which we visited in August 2019 in A Family Visit to Gonzalez Byass for Tio Pepe.  Please read this post as a refresher on sherry regarding the region, the Palomino and Pedro Ximenez (PX) grapes, production, styles, and the solera systems.

On their own, these are three enjoyable wines. The Alfonso Oloroso boasts pecans and walnuts within its dry profile. The Harveys Bristol Cream has a milder aroma, more body (nuts and caramel), and suitable acidity to balance the sugar. And the Nectar Pedro Ximénez is all figs within a savory and complex core which also includes caramel and nuts.

With the candy, we conducted two tastings featuring different candies. The first sitting paired the three sherries with Milk Duds, Reese's, Payday, and Butterfingers. The Butterfingers worked best with the Harveys Bristol Cream by adding even more nuts to the palate. The Milk Duds paired nicely with the Nectar Pedro Ximénez as the chewy caramel worked into that wine's depth. The Reese's was a huge hit with the Alfonso adding chocolate and bringing forth some orange from the wine. And the salt from the Payday helped the peanuts blend into the Alfonso.

The second tasting confirmed some of the lessons learned from the previous sitting. In general, the complex and rich Nectar Pedro Ximénez requires a candy with either complexity or chewiness. And candies with chocolates and nuts work well with the Alfonso Oloroso and Harveys Bristol Cream. 

Specifically, the Almond Joy and Tootsie Roll paired best with the Nectar, particularly the Almond Joy where the coconut added even more nuances to that sherry. Same for the 100 Grand bar - the caramel blended into that wine's depth.  The Hersheys wrapped around both the Alfonso and Harveys tasting like a chocolate nugget with nut filling. The Crunch bar was similar. The Baby Ruth worked best with the Harveys with the chewiness elevating the wine. And finally, the Whoppers didn't play well with any of these sherries. The sensation was disjointed with one sensation of candy then wine or vice versa.

Finally, a stand-alone sitting showed to use KitKats with the Alfonso Oloroso. 

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

Monday, October 19, 2020

Serbian Rakija: Zaric Šljivovica & Hubert 1924 Quince

Rakija is an eau de vie styled fruit brandy popular in Slavic and Balkan countries and in Hungary where it is known as Palinka. It is the national drink of Serbia and the plum variety (Šljivovica) is actually a registered trademark with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). Rakija is also distilled from other fruits such as apricots, grapes, pears, and cherries where the fermented fruits are "baked" and not boiled in the distillation process. The first distillation is referred to as "soft brandy" whereas the second distillation is called prepecenica -- or "double-baked".  Plums are double-baked whereas apricot, quince, and pear brandies are often soft brandies in order to retain the fruit fragrance.

Historians claim that the spirit arose in the Balkans in the 16th century as a result of the Turkish invasions of the 14th & 15th centuries. However, there is now three separate archaeological evidence that Rakija was being distilled in Bulgaria in the 11th century.  Regardless of origin, rakija has been and still is a family staple throughout Eastern Europe. 

With Šljivovica, producers use different plum varieties and blend these together -- either combining before fermentation or after distillation. Three of the most popular plum varieties are Požegaca, Crvena Ranka, and Trnovaca. The latter is an older cultivated species of plum which are small and round and provides rich fruit. Crvena Ranka is another ancient species that is larger and thrives in poorer and drier soils. It is also sterile and thus needs to be pollinated by another plum species - often  Požegaca or better known as Damson.  However, this plum is very sensitive to frost and the Plum plox virus (a viral disease), thus vigilant care is taken in the orchards. 

Besides varietal differences within a rakija spirit, there are also geographic differences. For instance, in the Kosjeric region of western Serbia, fruit ripens late in the growing season due to the area's higher altitude. This translates to a ratio of sugars and acids and higher quality fruit sought by distillers.  In the Vojvodina province on the Carpathian Basin -- the plain that remained when the Pliocene Pannonian Sea dried out -- is full of rich and fertile loamy loess soils.  As a result, agriculture dominates in Vojvodina as the soil ensures a good supply of plant-available water, soil aeration, and various minerals. I recently purchased two Serbian Rakija from each of these areas. 

The Zaric Distillery operates in Kosjeric and produces numerous rakija from local fruit including the Zaric Distillery Kraljica ($52). Kraljica translates to Queen, is PDO protected, and is a prepecenica Šljivovica produced by the three plum varieties discussed above: Požegaca, Crvena Ranka, and Trnovaca. After the second distillation, the spirit is aged for a minimum of seven years in oak,  converting the clear Rakija into a style similar to cognac.  Even with the oak aging, plums leap through the nose and remain on the palate with a layer of smoke that lasts in a low burn setting (42% abv). I really like the smokiness as it doesn't overpower the fruit. 

Destillerija Hubert 1924 is located in Vojvodina - specifically in Banatsko Veliko Selo - near the Romanian Border. The family distillery was founded in 2007 but the building that houses the distilling operations was built in 1924, hence the name. They produce six brandies (Quince, Apricot, Apple, Plum, Pear, Cherry) using an old family recipe and the traditional double distillation in copper cauldrons. The fruit is sourced from the 15 hectares family orchard estate. Since quince is not fairly known in the U.S., I grabbed a bottle of the Dunja Quince Brandy ($44). Quince (Dunja in Serbian) is a pome fruit, related to apples and pears, that when ripe is bright yellow and looks like a fuzzy, short-necked pear. As a raw fruit, it is too sour and astringent to eat so is most often used in jams, cakes, and rakija.  It also has a relatively low sugar content in that 70 kg of fruit is necessary to produce 1 liter of brandy and fermentation occurs from autumn to spring. The flavor profile of this rakija is quite interesting with strong tropical aromas like pineapple but a more subdued pear inspired core. And very smooth at 40% abv.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Organic Wines from Chile's Veramonte Vineyards

Wines of Chile list 16 valleys noted for wine production and for a quarter of a century, Veramonte Vineyards has been farming in the "the trailblazing cold-climate wine-producing region of Chile":  the Casablanca Valley. Over time they also set roots in the Colchagua Valley which has "evolved over the last twenty years from being a calm stretch of farmland to becoming one of the largest and most active wine-producing regions in the country." Today the wine is part of the Gonzalez Byass family and produces seven organic varietal wines from these two appellations.

The Casablanca Valley is "known for the marine influence of the Pacific Ocean that cools off its climate, the morning fog that settles into the valley, and the old, granite-clay soils that create a rich tapestry of terroir. All these factors play a part in making this valley one of the main producers of white wine in Chile. The higher, warmer altitudes free from frosts are ideal for red varieties such as Merlot and Syrah, while the lower and cooler areas are favorable for vibrant white wines with a signature minerality that cause Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay to be the most iconic varieties of the Casablanca Valley".

The Colchagua Valley is located in the southern half of the Rapel Valley and the "relatively low altitude of the coastal hills allows the Pacific breeze to mingle with the Andean winds, which cools the valley and prolongs the maturation period of the region. This is advantageous for the preservation of acidity in the grapes and helps to generate red wines with excellent coloring, great freshness, and very good keeping qualities. The large majority of wine produced here is red, with a particular propensity for the production of Carménère, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Although, the newer plantations close to the coast have also proven to be a region with great potential for cool-climate white wines". 

In both valleys, Veramonte follows organic practices in order to "express the fullest potential of the terroir".  These practices are augmented with in-house compost; row cultivation to minimize erosion; incorporation of animals like sheep to cut grass and act as a natural fertilizer; conservation of biological corridors to ensure a self-regulated ecosystem for healthy vines; pruning and canopy handling that allows for proper ventilation and disease prevention; and undergrowth control that unpacks the soil, generates structure and enhances the life and soil microfauna. 

Veramonte Organic Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($11.99)
Sourced from the Casablanca Valley this was my favorite of the trio and expressed an old-world style in contrast to more popular lemongrass dominated Sauvignon Blanc. Citrus is present, much more subdued, coexisting with considerable depth, and finishing with refreshing acidity.

Veramonte Organic Pinot Noir 2018 ($12.99)
Also from the Casablanca Valley, this is a very pleasant wine with sour cherries throughout. It presents a satisfying balance between tannins and acidity. 

Veramonte Organic Carmenere 2018 ($11.99)
Sourced from the warmer Colchagua Valley this wine expressed blue fruits like plums and blueberries that are rich in concentration with rising acidity.  Would prefer a little more tannic structure.

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

Monday, October 5, 2020

Redbreast 12-Year-Old Irish Whiskey - Sherry Barrel vs Bourbon Barrel

The highly acclaimed Redbreast 12-Year-Old Irish Whiskey is matured in a combination of Bourbon seasoned American Oak barrels and Oloroso Sherry seasoned Spanish oak butts that provide complex flavors to this light-colored whiskey. The whiskey starts as locally grown barley from the Munster province in southwestern Ireland. The mash bill includes both malted and unmalted barley with the traditional malting process imparting sweetness as the starch is more accessible to the yeast during fermentation. On the other hand, the unmalted barley provides a silky and creamy mouthfeel plus a dash of spice. Once the mash is cooked and fermented, the wort is triple distilled in copper pot stills that increase the alcohol content from 40% after the first run to 85% after the third.  Copper stills are preferred since they conduct heat efficiently, and more importantly, the copper reacts with volatile sulfur compounds to form copper sulfate which remains behind in the still. Furthermore, the large pot stills used at the Midleton Distillery allows for a large volume of heavier congeners to "reflux" back into the still producing a lighter style and higher strength spirit.

This whiskey is then moved into either used sherry or bourbon barrels. The sherry butts -- standard size casks used for maturing sherry -- are manufactured by hand at Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, and are made from European oak harvested in Galicia, Spain. Prior to being shipping to Ireland, the casks hold sherry wine for two years. The bourbon barrels are made from American white oak that were manufactured in Kentucky and held bourbon whiskey for a period of 3 or 4 years prior to being shipped to Ireland. The inner linings of both types of casks allow the Irish whiskey to seep in during maturation, and when it withdraws in the cooler winter months the whiskey takes with it the spectrum of either sherry or bourbon flavors hidden within. These characters include nuts and dried fruits from the sherry and vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon from the bourbon. After a minimum of 12 years, and usually longer, the whiskeys are blended and the final Redbreast 12-Year-Old Irish Whiskey is excellent - hints of all these flavors within a lightly bodied sipping whiskey. Sláinte. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Berryessa Gap Durif (Petite Sirah)

In 1880, deep in the Rhone Valley, Dr. Francois Durif released to the world a new grapevine that he discovered created from a natural crossing (most likely due to cross-pollination) of a mystery grape pollen and one of his Peloursin vines. Over a century later DNA analysis identified this second parent as Syrah. This new vine was called Durif in Europe but for more mysterious reasons was called Petite Sirah in California as early as the mid-1880s. This name stuck in North and South America.

The name Petite Sirah may have resulted from the grape's "petite" berries which provide plenty of intense fruit and high tannins. High acidity is another inherent characteristic of the grape - which with the tannins encourages aging. Other common notable characteristics are blackberry, chocolate, and black pepper flavors.

Berryessa Gap Vineyards is located in the Winters AVA and situated in the western corner of Yolo County, located off Route 128 between the town of Winters and the Vaca Mountains. Napa County lies on the western side of the ridge. The Berryessa estate - Coble Ranch vineyard - is planted along the eastern ridge of the Vaca Mountains and benefits from a climate that resembles the hot and dry conditions of Mediterranean climates.  

Durif (Petite Sirah) is one of their many grapevines and the winery releases two versions. Their Berryessa Gap Petite Sirah ($27) is composed of 85% Durif, 10% Primitivo/Zinfandel, and 5% Peloursin and is modeled after the Rhone field blends copied admirably by California's Ridge Vineyards in Sonoma's Lytton Springs.  The Durif in this wine is whole-berry fermented which tones down the tannins and intensity leading to a soft and elegant wine. 

On the other hand, the Berryessa Gap Durif ($32) is 100% Durif, grown in its own plot elsewhere on the estate.  For a sensory descriptor, the wine is juicy, with dense blueberries, slight spice, and friendly chewy tannins. But on a metaphysical dimension, this wine provides deeper sensory pleasure like the feeling after that perfect golf swing or getting the barrel on a baseball.  This is a memorial wine. Great job Nicole.  

Monday, September 21, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Herzegovina Trnjak

Trnjak (TER-nyak) is an indigenous grape to both Croatia and Herzegovina and is usually planted as the pollinator to the more popular female Blatina grape.  For instance, Vinarija Citluk, the biggest winery in Bosnia and Herzegovina, plants a row of Blatina, a row of Trnjak, 2 rows of Blatina, a row of Trnjak, and so on. And in the best of times, Trnjak is able to pollinate itself as well as the Blatina. Currently, Blatina is the more fashionable wine, but after opening a bottle of the 2015 Wines of Illyria Trnjak ($35.99), I see Trnjak as having more potential. It provides more body and structure than Blatina, just as rustic, with a little more spice.  Sadly, there's just not a lot of Trnjak produced or available. This and other Illyria wines are available on the East Coast and hopefully soon in the DC area through Siema Wines.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

La Forêt Blanche Winery in the Judean Foothills

The Judean Foothills is the largest of Israel's six major wine regions - part of the ancient Kingdom of Judah and lying between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  At the Tel Hebron archaeological dig, pottery shards from wine amphorae have been unearthed stamped with the royal seal of the Kingdom of Judah (700 BCE) stating “For the King of Hebron”.  For thousands of years, winemakers have taken advantage of this Mediterranean climate with abundant sunshine, chalky and clay loams, and a diurnal swing of 20°C.  Modern winemaking resurfaced in the 1950s and 1960s with the Livni family joining in 2003 by producing wine from the single varietal vineyard at Sde Kalev at La Forêt Blanche Winery. Ten years earlier Menachem Livni pioneered the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the Hebron Hill area and established this vineyard.

Several La Forêt Blanche wines were included in the summer Hopwine kit. The red wines were sourced from their Judean Hills vineyard whereas the white wine from the cooler and more mountainous Negev Highlands to the south. The Dvir Cabernet-Shiraz-Merlot 2017 is excellent - a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 33% Shiraz from the Sde Kalev vineyard, rounded off with 22% Merlot. The wine was aged for 12 months in French and American oak barrels and bottled without filtration. Expect velvety cherries, mint, and earth.  The Dvir Pinot Noir 2017 is also derived from the Sde Kalev vineyard and is very juicy with black pepper sprinkled within the black cherry profile. The Dvir Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 was aged for 18 months in French and American oak barrels, then bottled without filtration. This is a rich creamy wine, blackberries, and some cocoa and mint.  The Talpiot Red Judean Hills 2017 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (80%), Petit Verdot (7%), Shiraz (7%), and Merlot (6%) that was aged for 6 months in French and American oak barrels and bottled without filtration.  Red raspberries and considerable acidity are reflected in this wine. Finally, the Talpiot White 2018 (Viognier grapes (80%) and Chenin Blanc (20%) showcases the Negev Highlands and impresses with its peach pit character and refreshing acidity. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Comparative Chilean Carménère with TerraNoble

TerraNoble is a Chilean winery that was founded in 1993 with the intent to highlight wines from the Maule Valley. The following year, Chilean Merlot was correctly identified as Carménère, and TerraNoble committed itself to this rediscovered grape.  They chose to establish their winery and initial vineyard (La Higuera Vineyard) in an area called Valle del Claro within the San Clemente district - the highest region in the Maule Valley. Over the years TerraNoble expanded their holdings into the Casablanca and the Colchagua Valleys with the later including the Los Lingues Vineyard near the Andes and the Los Cactus Vineyard near the Pacific Coast. 

This development offered a clear opportunity to produce single vineyard Carménère wines using the same winemaking techniques in order to compare and contrast wines made near the coast to those produced near the mountains.  These techniques included an 8-12 day fermentation at 26-27º C and a one-two week post-fermentation maceration -- all depending on the lot. Finally, the lots were combined into French oak barrels and untoasted foudres to age for 14 months. The resultant wines were the 2017 TerraNoble CA1 and the 2017 TerraNoble CA2 (both $24.99). 

The CA1 comes from the Los Lingues Vineyard located at the base of the Andes Mountains and benefits from a temperate Mediterranean microclimate. At night though, the vineyard experiences a strong diurnal temperature to 20º C that helps the grapes ripen slowly over time while retaining acidity.  The soils consist of high draining sand, clay, and granite with few nutrients. These conditions help produce a fresh Carménère wine with lively acids, dark black fruit, a slightly green and herbaceous palate, and firm tannins. 

The CA2 derives from the coastal Los Cactus Vineyard which shares a similar temperate Mediterranean climate with a cooling effect from the constant sea breezes. The soils are silt and sandy loam over a granite base that provides good drainage and similar low nutrients.  In some respects, the CA2 is similar to the CA1 -- but with less intensity. It's lively, but not as acidic with a higher fruit expression.  And the tannins are slightly less firm. But the primary difference is the absence of herbs and green characters. 

They both are delicious wines, but my favorite was the 2016 TerraNoble CA1 ($24.99) that the winery snuck in as a vertical to the 2017 CA1 but with a slightly different winemaking protocol. This wine has a similar freshness and herbaceous green character, but the tannins were much more rounded. Excellent. 

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

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Grangestone Bourbon, Rum, Sherry Cask Single Malt Scotch Whiskys

While browsing the miniatures at a Florida Total Wine - which are so superior to Virginia based stores since spirits are sold -- I found a trio of Grangestone Single Malt Scotch Whiskys each spending a second maturation in a different type of cask.  The Grangestone brand is a Total Wine house brand that internet sleuths have most likely linked it to William Grant and Sons and produced at their Kininvie distillery.  William Grant and Sons was founded in 1887 and has grown into the third-largest producer of Scotch whiskey behind Diageo and Pernod Ricard. They feature brands such as Grant's, Glenfiddich, and The Balvenie.

Alone, Grangestone should be considered a mid-tier brand where the initial finishing occurs in traditional American oak casks for three years in order to be regarded as a "proper" Scotch whisky. But finding a trio of miniatures that underwent a second maturation in bourbon, rum, and sherry casks provided an opportunity to see how each imparted different characters into the whisky. As stand-alone 750ml bottles, these whiskys sell for $30, but as miniatures $2.50 each.

Overall, I preferred the Grangestone Rum Cask Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky as it seemed to impart more balance and depth with vanilla and a rum-honey sweetness. The Grangestone Sherry Cask Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky was the most concentrated with plenty of baking spices, dried fruits, and caramel.  Finally, the Grangestone Bourbon Cask Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky was very spicy - almost rye spicy - with more burn and oak flavors. Ready for another round...

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

DOC delle Venezie at the Wine Media Conference Virtual Summit

DOC delle Venezie is an interesting consortium of three wine regions created specifically around one grape variety: Pinot Grigio. The DOC was established in 2017 in order to enhance, protect, and promote this grape within the Triveneto: Trentino, Veneto, and Friuli Venezia. The enhancement revolves around improving quality and focusing on microclimates -- which in some instances requires reducing cultivation in order to increase quality.  Protection is implemented through an Italian Government Seal which guarantees that the wine consists of 85% Pinot Grigio grown in the Triveneto region. And promotion includes various tasting events like one just presented at the Wine Media Conference Virtual Summit.

(Photo courtesy of the Italian Wine Central).

For this event participants, each received two different wines from DOC delle Venezie with Wine Journalist, Sommelier, and Italian Wine Girl Laura Donadoni providing an overview of the Pinot Grigio, Triveneto, microclimates, and the wines. First some basics. Pinot Grigio was a natural mutation of Pinot Noir and Pinot Bianco that occurred over 2,000 years ago.  In order to grow to its full potential, the grape needs a cool climate (preferably within an average of 55-59 degrees F) and well-drained soils.  If the grape is planted in warmer regions then, in general, these wines lack texture and acids.

Pinot Grigio is widely planted in the Trivenetio because of its cool environment with large diurnal temperatures with the Alps acting as a barrier for disruptive weather but providing cool winds as does the Adriatic Sea on the east. Thus the average temperature in the DOC appellation falls between 57-59 degrees F where texture and acids develop naturally. Pinot Grigio wines represent 7 out of every 10 bottles produced in the DOC delle Venezie and come in three styles: Bianco, Frizzante, and Spumante.  The latter two are semi-sparkling and sparkling wines that are made using the Charmat method of pressurized tanks.

For the tasting, we received two wines that represent different character profiles of the Trivenetio. The Pietra di Pinot Grigio (Friuli Venezia Giulia) provided apple and lemons both on the nose and palate, with honeysuckle, some depth and minerals, and finishing with vibrant acids. A popular DOC delle Venezie profile. On the other hand, the Gemma di Luna Pinot Grigio provided white peaches and a more dominating stone fruit profile with more minerality, but with the same strong acidity. This wine is more typical for those made in Trentino near Lake Garda.  And a final positive for DOC delle Venezie Pinot Grigio is they generally run from $15-20. Cheers.

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

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Jura Savagnin & Vin Jaune

"During his studies in the 1860s, Pasteur identified that what he referred to as Mycoderma vini - known as the fleur ("flower") by the vignerons, now known as the microorganisms that create the voile or layer of yeast that settles on the surface of wine in barrels - was different from what was known as Mycoderma aceti or acetic (vinegar) bacteria. He even showed that you could seed the surface of the wine with Mycoderma vini to create the right bouquet - anticipating the use of the ensemencement process by almost a century. " -- Wink Lorch: Jura Wine: With Local Food and Travel Tips
Thus Louis Pasteur, the father of microbiology and pasteurization process should also be known as the father of Vin Jaune - the intentionally oxidized wine produced in his native Jura, France.  Lorch continues quoting Jacques Levaux, the retired director of the Jura wine laboratory, "... apart from the rigorous analytical testing, little had changed either in the making or the understanding of Vin Jaune since the time of Pasteur in the mid-19th century".

To paraphrase Lorch, the production of Vin Jaune follows the practice of Spanish sherry where wine (from 100% Savagnin grapes - picked late in the season) are placed in a barrel and not moved or topped for up to six years. Naturally or inoculated, a layer of yeast called voile ("veil")  - and similar to Sherry's flor - forms and protects the wine from extreme oxidation and provides a nutty and rich profile. Since the wine in the barrel is never topped and some is lost to evaporation, it is compulsory to use a 62cl clavelin bottle.

DalGobboM - Own work CC BY-SA 3.0
Savagnin Blanc is especially suited to its indigenous home in the sub-alpine regions of eastern France. And more specifically, this ancient white wine grape is planted abundantly in eastern Jura, a wine region "sandwiched between Burgundy in the west and Switzerland in the east". DNA reveals that Savagnin is the same as Traminer and associated with the Germanic family of Traminer like Gewurztraminer.  But the DNA evidence also revealed that this ancient grape originated in Jura.

Jura's is a cool climate with warm, relatively dry summers and cold winters, and the majority of Jura's vines are planted on south-facing slopes -- to absorb as much of the sun's rays. A minority of vineyards are located in the more mountainous areas of eastern Jura, where heights can reach p to 4,500ft (1370m). However, the majority of vines are planted in the slightly lower-lying land in the west which average 1,000ft (305m).

Marine fossils
"It should come as no surprise that the key soil types here are Jurassic limestone and marlstone. The Jurassic period was named after Jura because the region's limestone mountains are representative of the geological developments which occurred between 145 million and 200 million years ago. The name of L'Etoile, the village which is home to one of Jura's most distinctive appellations, is said to be derived from the star-shaped marine fossils which characterize its limestone-rich soils (etoile is French for 'star'). Chablis and the upper Loire Valley are built on a similar geological structure". -- wine-searcher

Jura was once one of France's most prolific wine regions and dominated by red grape varieties. However, according to Lorch, "during the phylloxera crisis, from the peak of plantations in 1873 to 1900,  the vineyard area reduced in the Jura by 62% - compared to 27% on average for France as a whole". These vines had also been declining due to powdery mildew and then add in two World Wars -- and Jura wine production was basically broke at the beginning of the 1960s.

Courtesy of Domaine de Sainte Marie
Local, governmental, and individual (think Henri Maire) efforts contributed to the steady rebound in Jura wines that have benefitted local producers such as the Domaine de Sainte Marie.  This winery has a 14 hectare (35 acres) estate which is planted with 85% Savagnin. These grapes are used to make Vin Jaune but are also blended with others to produce AOC Cotes du Jura & L'Etoile wines as well as the Vin de Paille dessert wine. Like Savagnin, the family de Sainte Marie is an ancient one tracing their Norman ancestors to the 12 century and having resided in Jura for over 200 years. Today "..the growing estate is built around Bertrand de Sainte Marie, his son Gaëtan,  and oenologist Nicolas Cottier to create top-of-the-range wines, worthy of their appellations, made from traditional Jura grape varieties such as Savagnin, Chardonnay, Poulsard and Trousseau".

Domaine de Sainte Marie participated in the Hopwine program and from the kit I received, it appears that the estate is well on their way to not only meet but exceed that goal. The 2017 L'Etoile Ensemblage is a textured and acidic blend of  Savagnin, Chardonnay, and Poulsard -- the later a red wine grown as a white wine. The 2012 Cotes du Jura Vin de Paille is made from Savagnin, Chardonnay, Poulsard, or Trousseau grapes that have been placed on loosely woven mats made of straw (paille) and dried out for several weeks (or even months). This process concentrates the sugars and flavors providing an auburn colored wine with intense sweet flavors and funk but lifted with refreshing acidity.  And finally, there's the 2010 Cotes du Jura Vin Jaune that is one of the highlights of the entire Hopwine shipment of 30 individual winery kits. It is aromatic, with a clean profile of nuts and honey with rising acids.  And excellent.

Domaine de Sainte Marie is looking for a U.S. importer and distributor so hopefully, their wines will be available in the near future.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Jacquère & Roussette (Altesse)

"On the evening of November 24th, 1248 a tremendous earthquake shook the region causing Mont Granier, the tallest mountain of the Chartreuse Massif, to disintegrate into huge boulders which came crashing down into the valley. Some of these boulders were the size of a house, and 16 villages were crushed and 5,000 lives lost. The church of the Sanctuaire Notre Dame de Myans, however, was spared, though gigantic boulders were stopped abruptly at the very door of the church. Some of these boulders can still be seen around the church grounds" The shrine has been a pilgrimage center since at least the thirteenth century, and its small ‘Black Virgin’ was an object of the devotion of Saint Francis de Sales. -- Our Lady of Myans, Savoy, France
Courtesy of
In the 1980s and only 2 kilometers from this church, Philippe Ravier took over his family's small estate in the Combe de Savoie. He slowly expanded it to the 35 hectares of today with ample plantings of two grapes popular in the Savoy wine region: Altesse & Jacquère. His son Sylvain joined him in 2008 and together they formed Domaine Philippe & Sylvain Ravier. Some of the multiple vineyard sites they farm were created from the Mount Granier landslide such as those near Apremont and Abymes with their soils composed of ancient glacial moraines and marlstone and those in Lac Saint André / Les Marches at the base of Mount Granier.

Further to the northwest, Domaine Gérald Dubreuil resides in the village of Poncin, halfway between Lyon and Geneva, and within the Vin du Bugey wine region.  The family estate has been cultivated for multiple generations and consists of south-facing vines planting in clay-limestone soils.

Within a larger scope, Savoie and Bugey are wine regions in eastern France, in the mountainous areas just south of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) and the border with Switzerland. While not technically connected under French wine law, Bugey and Savoie are often grouped together since they are close both geographically and produce similar wine styles.  They are very cool climates so most of their wines are white led by Jacquère, Roussette (Altesse), Bergeron (Roussanne), Marsanne, and Chardonnay.  For reds look for Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Mondeuse.  The two main appellations within the regions are Vin de Bugey and Vin de Savoie with numerous Crus and sub-appellations that may appear on labels.  (

Jacquère [jah-kehr] is mostly grown within the crus of the Vin de Savoie appellation -- specifically in the villages of Apremont and Abymes within the shadows of Mont Granier.  Wines from the Jacquère grape are noted for their high acidity, low alcohol, sometimes herbaceous, but clean minerality. We received a Hopwine kit from Domaine Philippe & Sylvain Ravier that included the AOP Vin de Savoie Les Abymes 2019. This wine showed many of these characteristics with its lively citrus profile with racy minerality and lasting acidity. An impressionable wine.

Roussette is the local synonym for Altesse and is considered indigenous to the southern shores of Lake Geneva.  The grape is a late ripener and is usually harvested with a reddish tinge on the berries take which provides Altesse with the synonym, Roussette ("reddish" in French).  When grown in the Roussette de Savoie and Roussette du Bugey appellations the grape is known for producing full-bodied, concentrated wines with floral, nutty characters and good acidity.  The Domaine Philippe & Sylvain Ravier AOP Roussette de Savoie Altesse 2019 is pure elegance with nutty pear flavors and considerable depth before finishing with subtle but lasting acidity.  The Domaine Gérald Dubreuil Roussette du Bugey 2017 provides similar depth and acidity but with more citrus - particularly lingering lemons.  Both show the elegance that Roussette produces in both appellations.  Santé.

Distribution: Wines from Domaine Philippe & Sylvain Ravier are available in Oregon, California, New York, and Massachusetts; whereas Domaine Gérald Dubreuil is looking for a U.S. distributor.