Friday, January 24, 2020

Cheers to Robert Burns and Speyburn Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky

On January 25th, revelers in Scotland will be toasting Robert Burns - the famed poet and Scots bard during Burns Night.  He was born on that day in 1759 and at the end of the century, his poems captured Scottish identity and nationalism at the time when government, culture, and industry were moving to or emanating from London.

One of his famous works, ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That‘ was sung at the opening of the new Scottish Parliament in 1999. This poem is a powerful statement relevant today: ‘That man to man the world o’er, / Shall brothers be for a’ that.’ Another relevant, powerful, yet playful poem, Scotch Drink, is shown on the left.

We will be toasting Burns with the Speyburn 10 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($30) sent to us courtesy of Speyburn Distillery. This distillery was founded in 1897 by John Hopkins in order to honor Queen Victoria's jubilee year (60th year of her reign). It is located in Speyside, a small region that hosts over half the distilleries in Scotland.

Hopkins selected the location for Speyburn next to the Granty Burn, a tributary to the Spey River that was exceptionally clean and unpolluted. Pure Highland water. He also hired distillery architect Charles C Doig, who builds vertically to create an even airflow over the grains as they dried.  The result is the classic pagoda ventilator, a hallmark of Doig's design.

After the grains are malted, fermented, and distilled, the whiskey is aged in used American oak bourbon and sherry casks. This process creates a traditional Speyside whisky: light, creamy, sweet and honeyed - with oak complexity.

Cheers to Robert Burns, Scotland, Speyburn, and Speyside Scotch Whisky.

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

Scotch Drink by Robert Burns (1785)

Let other poets raise a fracas
"Bout vines, an' wines, an' drucken Bacchus,
An' crabbit names an'stories wrack us,
An' grate our lug:
I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,
In glass or jug.

O thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink!
Whether thro' wimplin worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,
In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp an' wink,
To sing thy name!

Let husky wheat the haughs adorn,
An' aits set up their awnie horn,
An' pease and beans, at e'en or morn,
Perfume the plain:
Leeze me on thee, John Barleycorn,
Thou king o' grain!
On thee aft Scotland chows her cood,
In souple scones, the wale o'food!
Or tumblin in the boiling flood
Wi' kail an' beef;
But when thou pours thy strong heart's blood,
There thou shines chief.
Food fills the wame, an' keeps us leevin;
Tho' life's a gift no worth receivin,
When heavy-dragg'd wi' pine an' grievin;
But, oil'd by thee,
The wheels o' life gae down-hill, scrievin,
Wi' rattlin glee.

Thou clears the head o'doited Lear;
Thou cheers ahe heart o' drooping Care;
Thou strings the nerves o' Labour sair,
At's weary toil;
Though even brightens dark Despair
Wi' gloomy smile.

Aft, clad in massy siller weed,
Wi' gentles thou erects thy head;
Yet, humbly kind in time o' need,
The poor man's wine;
His weep drap parritch, or his bread,
Thou kitchens fine.

Thou art the life o' public haunts;
But thee, what were our fairs and rants?
Ev'n godly meetings o' the saunts,
By thee inspired,
When gaping they besiege the tents,
Are doubly fir'd.

That merry night we get the corn in,
O sweetly, then, thou reams the horn in!
Or reekin on a New-year mornin
In cog or bicker,
An' just a wee drap sp'ritual burn in,
An' gusty sucker!

When Vulcan gies his bellows breath,
An' ploughmen gather wi' their graith,
O rare! to see thee fizz an freath
I' th' luggit caup!
Then Burnewin comes on like death
At every chap.

Nae mercy then, for airn or steel;
The brawnie, banie, ploughman chiel,
Brings hard owrehip, wi' sturdy wheel,
The strong forehammer,
Till block an' studdie ring an reel,
Wi' dinsome clamour.

When skirling weanies see the light,
Though maks the gossips clatter bright,
How fumblin' cuiffs their dearies slight;
Wae worth the name!
Nae howdie gets a social night,
Or plack frae them.

When neibors anger at a plea,
An' just as wud as wud can be,
How easy can the barley brie
Cement the quarrel!
It's aye the cheapest lawyer's fee,
To taste the barrel.

Alake! that e'er my muse has reason,
To wyte her countrymen wi' treason!
But mony daily weet their weason
Wi' liquors nice,
An' hardly, in a winter season,
E'er Spier her price.

Wae worth that brandy, burnin trash!
Fell source o' mony a pain an' brash!
Twins mony a poor, doylt, drucken hash,
O' half his days;
An' sends, beside, auld Scotland's cash
To her warst faes.

Ye Scots, wha wish auld Scotland well!
Ye chief, to you my tale I tell,
Poor, plackless devils like mysel'!
It sets you ill,
Wi' bitter, dearthfu' wines to mell,
Or foreign gill.

May gravels round his blather wrench,
An' gouts torment him, inch by inch,
What twists his gruntle wi' a glunch
O' sour disdain,
Out owre a glass o' whisky-punch
Wi' honest men!

O Whisky! soul o' plays and pranks!
Accept a bardie's gratfu' thanks!
When wanting thee, what tuneless cranks
Are my poor verses!
Thou comes-they rattle in their ranks,
At ither's a-s!

Thee, Ferintosh! O sadly lost!
Scotland lament frae coast to coast!
Now colic grips, an' barkin hoast
May kill us a';
For loyal Forbes' charter'd boast
Is ta'en awa?

Thae curst horse-leeches o' the' Excise,
Wha mak the whisky stells their prize!
Haud up thy han', Deil! ance, twice, thrice!
There, seize the blinkers!
An' bake them up in brunstane pies
For poor damn'd drinkers.

Fortune! if thou'll but gie me still
Hale breeks, a scone, an' whisky gill,
An' rowth o' rhyme to rave at will,
Tak a' the rest,
An' deal't about as thy blind skill
Directs thee best.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Virginia Wine Chat - Virginia Governor's Case Wines - Part II

Last week we posted on the first phase of the Virginia Wine Chat in Virginia Wine Chat - Virginia Governor's Case Wines - Part 1. A couple days later we focused on the second half dozen wines with most affiliated with longtime Virginia winemaker Michael Shaps.  The tasting started with two white wines, one from Virginia's always reliable Barboursville Vineyards, the other from Michael Shaps and another example of how Petit Manseng is rising in stature.  These were followed by three red wines - all made by Michael Shaps - but for three different wineries.  And finally, the session ended with a dessert Petit Manseng which illustrates how the grape's natural acidity elevates the addition of residual sugar.  Next month the results of the 2020 Virginia Governor's Cup Competition will be released.  I'm sure Shaps and Barboursville will be among the gold medalist winners.

Barboursville Vineyards 2017 Reserve Vermentino
Tastes like Vermentino: saline minerality, herbaceousness, lemon peel, and lively acids

Michael Shaps Wineworks 2016 Petit Manseng ($30)
The wine maintains the grape's inherent bright tropical characters and acidity and provides a newly discovered depth and weight.

Upper Shirley Vineyards 2014 Zachariah ($40)
This blend is full-bodied where the dark cherry flavors lead to dusty tannins and an easy finish.

Hamlet Vineyards 2016 Eltham ($27)
This 50-50 Merlot/Petit Verdot blend provides dense fruit, chewy tannins, and a spicy long finish as the acids linger.

Michael Shaps Wineworks 2015 Tannat ($35)
This wine is dense with tobacco & leather, sticky tannins and plenty of acids to lay this down for a while.

Michael Shaps Wineworks Raisin d'Être White 2016 ($25.00)
This dessert wine is composed of Petit Manseng that has been dried in tobacco barns where the raisining increases the sugar to 36%.  It shows honey, orange, tropics, candied fruit - and lively acids.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Virginia Wine Chat - Virginia Governor's Case Wines - Part 1

The 2020 Virginia Governor's Cup Competition is currently being judged and the results will be released next month, so the 2019 Case Club Awardees are taking a final victory lap appearing in Frank Morgan's Virginia Wine Chat.  The specific chat actually involves two sessions with the first held January 12th at Horton Vineyards, the reigning Governor's Cup winner for their 2016 Petit Manseng. Shannon Horton, daughter of founder Dennis Horton, represented the winery and was joined by two winemakers - Ben Jordan of Early Mountain Vineyards and Matthieu Finot of King Family Vineyards.  Their presence provided participants the opportunity to present questions on a range of topics particularly on the nature of Virginia Petit Manseng and the methodology behind blending trials.

The three presenters described the merits of Petit Manseng with Shannon Horton describing her loose clusters which provide an easier opportunity for the grapes to dry during humid weather. Horton also mentioned the grape's versatility with the inherent acids allowing a multitude of styles along the sweetness scale. And Ben Jordan mentioned how Petit Manseng is not a thirsty grape with respect to late-season rains. Growers do not need to fear grape degradation with Petit Manseng as she won't quaff the late summer or autumn rains and become bloated. According to Jordan, that is useful since other grapes could be harvested before the rains and Petit Mansen left for afterward.

As a response to my question regarding the methodology behind blending trials, the Early Mountain team responded via twitter.   To paraphrase, they develop ideas during fermentation and in January assemble trial blends (w/o actually blending). In the spring, they revisit the original ideas and blend again (different varieties, oak treatments). The goal is to finish the trials by the next harvest. I hope consumers appreciate the time and methodological nature involved when crafting your favorite blended wines.

The second session of the 2019 Virginia Case Club Wines continues on #WineChat this Thursday,  January 16th at 7:30pm ET. Hope to see you online. Cheers

Horton Vineyards Petit Manseng 2016 ($25)
The wine maintains the grape's inherent bright tropical characters and provides a newly discovered depth and weight.

Glen Manor Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Franc ($31.99)
Luscious, full-bodied, velvety, finishing with lifting acids and firm tannins. The wine is also devoid of the inherent green vegetal character and while receiving some oak, not overly so.

King Family Vineyards 2016 Mountain Plain ($69.95)
Beautiful wine, fresh and velvety red fruit, mint and leather, and integrated tannins.

King Family Vineyards 2016 Meritage ($36)
Big chewy wine, dark fruit, some tobacco, solid acids, and firm tannins.

Early Mountain Vineyards 2016 Eluvium ($39.99)
Great mouthfeel, dark bold fruit with some spice, leading to a light and dusty tannins. Thank you acids.

Paradise Springs Winery 2015 Meritage ($49)
Gripping leather surrounded by blackberries and baking spices. Long, lingering finish.

Monday, January 6, 2020

River Outpost Brewing - the Hudson Valley's Entertainment Center

River Outpost Brewing may be the most entertaining family venture brewery in the U.S. This New York brewery features about a dozen craft beers, a kitchen, an adventure park with a rock-climbing wall and rope course, and a full-throttled gaming area including virtual reality stations. There's also plenty of live music and big-screen televisions - making this as much an adult escape. As for the beer, the Beast-Club Porter is delicious. Its development is reminiscent of the stories where porters would grab a quick beer by combining a portion from each tap. In this case, the porter is a 50/50 blend of their Basic Beast and Dub-Cub, the former a stout brewed with pumpkin, spices, vanilla, coffee, and milk sugar and the later a rather interesting English Brown Ale on its own. The Toad Alley ESB is an extra special bitter that also nails the English pub-style - and goes down quite smoothly. Finally, the Haze BAE is a New England styled IPA that is brewed with NY grown oats - and with lots of citrus and pineapple and not over the top with hop characters. Cheers.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Demarest Hill Winery & Distillery - The Everything Store for Craft Beverages

Francesco Ciummo is a pioneer - yes they still exist. He learned how to graft vines at 17, moved to Belgium at 20 to work as a coal miner, then emigrated to Venezuela and learned the auto body trade. In 1961, at 26 years old, he came to the United States eventually purchasing a body shop in Bergenfield, NJ. Ciummo retired at 55, and soon afterward purchased 135 acres in Warwick, NY where he planted a vineyard. He opened Demarest Hill Winery in 1998 then started tinkering in other craft beverages such as distilled products in 2006 and hard cider more recently. Not satisfied with a limited portfolio, Ciummo has explored the boundaries of wine, spirits, vinegar, and flavorings currently offering over 90 distinct products for sale - 33 of which are distilled spirits and liquors.

During a Christmas Break visit, we sampled many of these offerings with a keen interest in the unique distilled products. For instance, Ciummo distills a rather tasty Clear Grappa but also sells versions augmented with honey, raisins, or figs. He follows a similar pattern with grape brandy, selling versions aged in Cherry Tree wood and our favorite the Triple Tree Plus Brandy ($22) – aged from maple, oak, apple, cherry and cedar trees from his property. I also enjoyed the Dandelion Brandy ($22) distilled with a dandelion flower mash and serves as a suitable digestif. The Sherry is suggestive of Jerez and the Tropical Liquore - a version of the Dominican drink "Mamajuana" is a blend of rum, red wine, and honey aged in the bottle with tree bark and herbs. And his fruit brandies, Cherry and Peach are sweet - but loaded with flavor.

As for wine, a majority of the products are on the sweeter scale but there are several dry offerings that are pleasant. The estate Dry Aurora - a white hybrid grape variety produced by Albert Seibel - is complex and interesting. And the off-dry Riesling comes across drier as the acids enable a crisp and clean finish. For reds, the Bacchus Noir made from Baco Noir was our favorite followed by the Warwick Black Pearl and Warwick Red Deer composed of De Chaunac and Marechal Foch respectively. For a final, try the Apple Cider and Rum ($14) which is only 2% alcohol but provides a delicious and deep apple flavor.