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.