Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Welschriesling, Grasevina, Olaszrizling, Riesling Italico, Laski Rizling

St. Donat Kopaszhegy
Olaszrizling 2018
The most widely planted grape variety in Croatia (Grasevina). The most widely planted grape variety in Hungary (Olaszrizling). And prevalent in Austria, Northern Italy, Czech Republic, Slovakia Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovenia where the grape is known by even more names: Welschriesling, Riesling Italico, Ryzlink vlašský, Welsch Rizling, Riesling Italico, and Laski Rizling.

Grasevina in a market in Split
In many cases, particularly in Croatia and Hungary, the wines are rather pedestrian, light and neutral, where they are favored in boxes, jugs, or as the base for the Hungarian wine spritzer: fröccs. However, in a particular microclimate with volcanic soils or in specific environments these wines find a more complex expression. In the latter case, the grapes form noble rot botrytis among the humid vineyards surrounding Lake Neusiedl Austria leading to more depth and fullness. And in the stratovolcanic chain within the cooler continental climate in Slavonia, Croatia or the volcanic basalt soils of Somló and Lake Balaton Hungary, the wines show even greater depth.

In the specific case surrounding Lake Balaton, Olaszrizling wines generally show complex minerality as they receive a boost of minerality and saltiness due to the basalt bedrock which releases minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium into the soils. These wines also provide a roundness that balances the grape's inherent acidity.

One such example is the St. Donat Kopaszhegy Olaszrizling 2018 ($21) available in the U.S. via Taste Hungary. This wine comes from a single vineyard Kopaszhegy (Bald Hill) on the Tihany peninsula in the Balatonfüred-Csopak wine region located on the northeastern shore of Lake Balaton (the largest lake in central Europe). And in this region, the wines are traditionally sold using the name of the hill, with each having its own character.  This wine is fermented spontaneously without inoculating with yeast and bottled naturally without clarifying and filtering.  It starts with a brief, initial impression of neutrality only because the sense of fruit is outweighed by a hefty dose of minerality that is sustained throughout.  The wine also provides roundness and depth that blends with the fresh acids - too complex to be used in fröccs. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Drinking Through Family History: Woodstock, Virginia

My mother's father's maternal line flows forth from the Shenandoah Valley in an area ranging from Strasburg to Edinburg and dominated by names like Hoover, Smoot, Gochenour, Grandstaff, Keller, and Hottel. These families were mostly German, Swiss, and Dutch immigrants arriving in the colonies at Philadelphia, then migrating to York and Lancaster, before finally settling in what is now Shenandoah County. They were a mixture of Mennonites and Lutherans, primarily farmers, who received their initial land grants from Lord Fairfax.

One of these immigrants was Hans Wilhelm Huber who along with his wife Anna Margaretha, emigrated from Germany and arrived in Philadelphia in 1736. A dozen years later the Hubers settled near the North Fork around Woodstock Virginia after an initial residency in Lebanon PA. Their son, Johannes Huber (John Hoover), married Elizabeth Fravel, whose family lineage arrived in the valley a couple generations earlier and included the Keller and Hottel families. The next two generations of Hoovers were farmers with the last male in my line, Perry Monroe Hoover, marrying Mary Jane Smoot -- bringing Gochenours and Grandstaffs into our mix. The Hoover, Smoot, and Gochenour farms were located very close to Woodstock, where many of these ancestors are buried.

These families participated in the growth of Woodstock starting with its original charter in 1761 - making it the 4th oldest town in Virginia - and on land which George Washington had surveyed in his youth and who sponsored the charter in Virginia's House of Burgesses. The town became the county seat of Shenandoah County with Thomas Jefferson designing the original courthouse that is the oldest courthouse still in use west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Clerk of the Circuit Court Thomas Marshall, father of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall, was one of the first judges to utilize the courthouse. Ardent revolutionaries, the community contributed soldiers to the 8th Virginia Regiment that saw action in Saratoga among many other battles, and suffered through Valley Forge. During the Civil War, the community was generally reluctant to participate in the southern cause, being religiously opposed to slavery, but a few members enlisted or were conscripted into the Company F (the Muhlenberg Rifles) of the 10th Virginia Infantry as well as Company C of the 33rd Virginia Infantry -- part of the Stonewall Brigade.

Today, Woodstock Brewhouse is located near in the center of town, near the historic courthouse. The brewery opened four years ago after renovating the Casey Jones Work-Clothes Company factory - which operated from 1925 through the early 1940s. You are familiar with this company through its Wrangler brand which rose to national prominence after the company and brand where purchased by the Blue Bell Overall Company in 1943. The brewery commemorates this history through its Casey Jones Vanilla Porter as well as the nearby North Fork of the Shenandoah River with the North Fork Golden Ale and Seven Bender American Pale Ale. These last two are your hydration beers during local hiking and fishing excursions.

And when fishing or visiting the seven bends of the North Fork, venture over the one-lane bridge or the swinging walking bridge to Muse Vineyards. The winery rests on the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains with the vineyards planted with a mixture of Bordeaux and Rhone grapes close to the river. In 2003 Robert Muse and Sally Cowal purchased an abandoned vineyard that formed the base for Muse and later purchased a 200-year-old Mennonite farm adjacent to their property which allowed them to expand to thirty acres of vines. The soil for the various vineyards are quite distinct, with the blocks closer to the river dominated by silt loam alluvium and the vineyards closer to the mountains containing rocky red clay soils. Since its inception, the winery has gained a very favorable reputation for its Clio ($35-ish) Bordeaux-style red wine and Thalia ($24) Rhone-style white wine. We concur completely.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Croatian Tribidrag (Crljenak Kaštelanski, Pribidrag, Kratošija) aka Zinfandel

"When I came to America in August 1958, I saw vineyards around Chateau Souverain and I was interested to know which grapes were grown there. They told me Cabernet Franc from France and Zinfandel, but no-one knows where those grapes came from.  .... These Zinfandel grapes reminded me of the Plavic Mali grapes from my homeland in Croatia. ... I contacted Dr. Carole Meredith to tell her that I believed Zinfandel, Italian Primitivo, and Croatian Plavic Mali were the same grape. "  Miljenko "Mike" Grgich addressing the First International Conference on the Tribidrag Variety
Grgich's instincts were close. The idea that California Zinfandel was equivalent to Italian Primitivo was also proposed by UC Davis professor Austin Goheen and Wade Wolfe in the 1960s. Goheen visually inspected Primitivo from Puglia (Southern Italy) and considered them identical whereas Wolfe used isozyme analysis to strengthen that hypothesis. But it wasn't until 1995, after three years of DNA analysis, when Dr. Carole Meredith, Professor at UC Davis, concluded that Zinfandel and Primitivo were, in fact, the same grape variety.

Courtesy of Rizman Winery
Based on Grgich's recommendation, Dr. Meredith then traveled to Croatia in 1998 and,  working with Dr. Edi Maletić and Dr. Ivan Pejić, collected 150 Plavic Mali samples. Returning to UC Davis for testing the results were negative, close, but not identical. Dr. Meredith concluded that either Zinfandel or Plavic Mali was the parent of the other but couldn't determine the parental direction. Dr. Maletić and Dr. Pejić continued the search in Dalmatia, often walking row after row in small family vineyards. Eventually, they sent Dr. Meredith samples of an obscure variety called Crljenak Kastelanski that they had collected near Kastel. Actually two sets of samples with the second being an exact match. And more research showed that Plavic Mali was the offspring. Fortunately for our pronunciation, the Crljenak Kastelanski grape was also called Tribidrag and the oldest name used in Croatian literature dated to the 15th century. Thus Croatia is the ancient homeland for California Zinfandel. (One and the same? – Zinfandel, Primitivo, Crljenak Kaštelanski and Kratošija)

Well, not so fast my friend. Croatia's southern neighbor Montenegro claims that distinction based on the Montenegrin autochthonous grape Kratosija which is genetically identical to Tribidrag. Montenegrin wine enthusiast Vlado Nikaljević presents an intriguing argument that the grapes provided to the Vienna World Fair that eventually became the foundation for California Zinfandel came from Montenegro and "Venetian archives show that the Statute of the Venetian Budva mentions Kratošija 60 years before the Tribidrag references". (Montenegro - the True Homeland of Zinfandel)

Thus, Zinfandel's homeland is - to be continued....

In the meantime, a second wave has taken Croatian Tribidrag to California. Ridge Vineyards, among other California wineries,  planted Croatian selections in their Lytton Springs vineyard. They will label wine from these grapes Croatian Zinfandel since the TTB doesn’t recognize Zinfandel and Tribidrag as synonyms. Expect an update on these wines soon.

This evening I just finished sipping a Dalmatian made Croatian Tribidrag - the 2016 Rizman Winery Tribidrag ($45) - available for purchase through Croatian Premium Wine Imports. The wine includes 15% Tempranillo and is sourced from the winery's organic vineyards in the Komarna winegrowing area between Split and Dubrovnik. The south-facing slopes are steep and comprised of limestone soils. The result is a chalky old world styled wine with linear fruit, approachable and chewy tannins, and lengthy acids.
The Ridge Lytton Springs Tribidrag apparently has a similar structure -- particularly the strong acidity.

During this CV pandemic, Croatian Premium Wine Imports is conducting weekly Wednesday night virtual chats and this Rizman is the focus on the chat for tomorrow April 15th. (Funny when I wrote that final date, I immediately panicked about my taxes.)  Hope to see you online at 8pm ET. Cheers.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Rioja Viura or Macabeo Elsewhere in Spain

DOC Rioja is primarily red wine centric, however, on the white wine side of the house, Viura has supplanted Malvasia as the most widely planted white grape variety.  Elsewhere in Spain, the grape is called Macabeo, but Rioja vintners are especially keen because of its high levels of antioxidant resveratrol monomers. This brings it a little closer to a red wine grape and barrel aging as the higher percentage of resveratrol equates to higher resistance to oxidation. And barrel aging inevitably results in higher exposure to oxygen. In the vineyard, there are risks; Viura is susceptible to disease and in particular to downy mildew and grey rot.

In the winery, Viura is very versatile and can be vinified into multiple styles from still or sparkling, dry or sweet, or steel or barrel fermented. The wines are generally fresh with floral and white fruit aromatics using stainless steel fermentation and more weighted and nutty when oak treatments are used.

If you want to try a Viura wine then you should start with Monopole, the oldest white wine brand in Spain, and first produced by CVNE in 1915. The current vintage is the Monopole 2019 White Rioja ($15) where only free-run juice was fermented in order to maintain the inherent fruit and floral aromatics. This also creates a freshness that is consistent from start to finish weaving through surprising layers of depth.

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

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Crossing the Ponte Romano de Éntoma to Virgen del Galir Godello

Ponte Romano de Éntoma
via Camino de Santiago
The Ponte Romano de Éntoma -- a stone bridge over the Rio Galir in the village of Éntoma and built by the Romans over two thousand years ago. It is even still usable today for pilgrims on the Camino Invierno de Santiago's winter route.  The bridge was constructed most likely to facilitate the transportation of gold from the encompassing Valdeorras (“Valley of Gold”) region. This area is located in southeastern Galacia and not to be confused with the coastal Rias Baixas. Gold mining eventually transitioned to slate once that precious metal had been extracted - but the Romans left an additional legacy: vineyards. And possibly the first vines planted in Galacia.

As Galicia's most inland region, Valdeorras has a predominantly continental climate, experiencing warm summers, cold winters, and mild autumns and springs, although the Atlantic Ocean to the west also exerts an influence (wine-searcher.com). And as a result of natural cross-breeding or mutations, the autochthonous grape variety Godello emerged as a dominant white grape. Yet, in the 19th century, most vineyards in Valdeorras suffered from multiple pests - most voraciously by phylloxera. In the 20th century, vineyards rebounded. The Valdeorras DO was created in 1945 and 25 years later Godello was reintroduced on a large scale - becoming the signature grape of the appellation.

More recently, in the 21st century, the Rioja powerhouse CVNE purchased the Virgen del Galir, a noted winery in Valdeorras located just outside of the village of Éntoma. The winery owns 20 hectares of high altitude vineyards planted at 30% inclination and with soil composed of decomposed slate. Since the winery's inception in 2002, Godello has been a major attraction - like the 2018 Pagos del Galir Godello ($21). The grapes are fermented in stainless steel and then rest on their lees for four months which helps provide a silky elegance. The wine also features characteristics of lemons, minerality, and fresh acidity. An excellent option.

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

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Stay Connected with Virtual Chats During the CV Lockdown

We are living in interesting times, unable to frequent our favorite craft beverage establishments or explore various regions.  Fortunately, wine, beer, and liquor stores are considered essential services and combined with discounted shipping rates are supplying our beverage needs. In order to stay connected with existing customers and to seek new consumers, craft beverage producers, importers, and retail shops are conducting virtual tastings.  The chats that I have participated in have been extremely informative, even when not indulging in the targeted beverage. And if you cannot participate live, most of these tastings are available via playback - so enjoy at your leisure. Here is a short list of sessions where I have either participated or received an email notification. Cheers.

On Tuesday nights at 8pm EST, Mirena and Win Burke have been hosting a Croatian Wine Chat at Croatian Premium Wine Imports which feature wines from the Komarna Appellation. In the first two episodes, they have interviewed Decanter judge and Croatian sommelier Siniša Lasan as well as winemakers Josip Volarević and Marko Suman. Each week they will focus on one or two wines in their portfolio available at their Online Store.

Similarly, Taste Hungary, which normally provides a quarterly wine club, has augmented that service with weekly virtual chats on Saturday evenings at 7pm EST. This coming Saturday, April 4th owner Gábor Bánfalvi is presenting Wines from Tokaj with future chats featuring Wines from Eger and Wines from the Heumann Winery in Villány. The wines for these tastings are available as part of various mixed 6-Packs, with free delivery on purchases of 6 bottles or more in the DC metro area, within 40 miles of DC (use promo code: DMV-FREE). They are also providing free delivery on the first shipment of a Wine Club subscription (use promo code: DMV-FREE1) and $10 shipping to all other states (except Alaska), for purchases of 6 bottles or more.

Several wine producers are also conducting virtual chats. In Virginia, Early Mountain Vineyards hosts several virtual presentations such as Friday, April 3rds Vineyard Tour with Dustin Wade, Vineyard Manager at 3:30pm EST.  Through their online store, they are offering free shipping for any orders of 3+ bottles -- combined with a 10% discount for any 6+ bottle order.  In Santa Barbara County, California, Solminer Wine Company is hosting weekly Saturday afternoon Taste Together virtual chats (3:30pm EST). Also in California, on Sunday afternoons (4pm PST) Kendall-Jackson's Winemaster Randy Ullom leads a tasting and discussion of their wines alongside various culinary pairings.

For distilleries, Seattle's Westland Distillery is hosting a tasting experience featuring their core whiskeys (American Oak, Sherry Wood, and Peated) starting Friday, April 3rd at 4pm PST. In Iowa, Mississippi River Distilling Co. is allowing consumers to plan their own virtual tasting with the distillery offering cocktail recipes and on the night of the tasting, they’ll walk the guests through the distillery.

For cideries, Richmond's Blue Bee Cider hosts their FireCider Chat Virtual Tastings on Thursday evenings at 7pm EST which should be very engaging to consumers not familiar with the cider industry or heirloom cider apples.

And continuing with the Commonwealth, let's not forget Frank Morgan's Virtual Virginia Wine Chats which we mentioned in Open That Bottle of Virginia (or Local) Wine Night. The Open That Bottle of Virginia Wine Night on March 28th received more than 4,000 views.

Retail outlets are also using the virtual mode of communication. In DC, the popular wine store DCanter - A Wine Boutique is hosting Friday evening Sips -- virtual wine classes at 6pm EST that "tackle a different wine topic that you can easily follow along at home with or without wine".

Update (4/2/2020) - Paso Robles Wine Country has compiled a list of twenty Virtual Experiences within their appellation. The same is true for the Idaho Wine Commission (pdf).