Thursday, July 22, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Slavonian Graševina with Krauthaker Winery

In a previous Grape Spotlight, we highlighted Hungarian Somlo Olaszrizling, a synonym of Welschriesling.  In reality, Welschriesling should be known as a synonym of Grasevina since the grape is most likely indigenous to Croatia and specifically Slavonia. "Welsch" translates to "foreign" eliminating Germany as the source and since the grape is rare in Italy, the Riesling Italico or the Italian Reisling translation from the Hungarian Olaszrizling could be just a mistaken identity during the Austrian-Hungarian empire. 

Graševina accounts for the largest percentage of wine production in Croatia at approximately 25% with over 8,000 hectares of planted vineyards.  The grape prefers moister environments with early warming vineyards and soils since it requires a long growing season. However, even in warmer climates, the grape is able to retain its acidity. 

In many cases, Graševina wines can be rather pedestrian (light and neutral), but in the best instances, distinct micro-climates allow for the development of complex expressions. That is the case in the cool yet sunny climate of Slavonia -- Croatia's breadbasket. This region encompasses Croatia's section of the Pannonian Basin and is bordered by the Danube, Drava, and Sava rivers.  The close proximity of these three rivers and the presence of the Krndija Mountain creates a microclimate that is particularly suitable for grape cultivation and especially for Graševina. "Požega Valley, as well as slopes of Krndija and Papuk hills, was recognized as a winegrowing land by the Illyrians, while the Cistercians, who arrived in the area at the beginning of the 13th century, founded a wine cellar in Kutjevo in 1232, the oldest wine cellar in Croatia today".  

The Slavonian town Kutjevo is still considered the center of Croatian winemaking and is located at the significant 45.3° North latitude  - shared with other distinguished wine areas such as the Rhone Valley, Bordeaux, Piedmont, Villány, and in the United States northern Michigan and Oregon. 

Krauthaker Vineyards and Winery is situated in the Kutjevo winegrowing region on the southern slopes of the Krndija Mountain. The winery cultivates grapes in several vineyard sites usually consisting of sandy and loamy soils atop sediment rocks. One such site is the Podgorje Kutjevo vineyard which is the source for their excellent Krauthaker 2019 Slavonija Graševina ($23) that I purchased through Croatian Premium Wine Imports. This wine is as far from pedestrian as you can get, full-bodied and floral with bright stone fruits and apples, finishing with refreshing acidity. It was consumed quite quickly among our family. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Famille Naud -- Cognac's Gin, Vodka, & Rum Distillery

In 1989 Jean-Michel Naud established the Distillerie de la Tour and the Famille Naud brand based out of a family distillery that had been repurposed from an old grain mill in 1923. This was the historic Cognac Distillerie Perrier located on the island of Pinthiers where Emile Perrier had crafted original liqueurs for decades. Famille Naud was able to resuscitate five very old traditional 2,500 liter Charente stills to produce a range of Cognacs and soon after to expand to become the first vodka distillery in Charentes. 

A recent Hopwine expo displayed the extent of more expansion as the kit included three cognacs (VS, VSOP & XO), a French still vodka, a distilled Gin, a 15-year-old Ron de Panama, and two Spiced Rum Hidden Loots. It also included two Pineau des Charentes - the special fortified wines of Cognac. All of these products were interesting, well crafted, and excellent representatives of their respective types. 

Cognac NAUD VSOP France - Charente-Maritime 
NAUD VSOP cognac is a blend of Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Petite Champagne (30%) that is double distilled in traditional small copper pot stills over direct flames then aged for a minimum of 4 years in oak barrels. Before bottling, older Eaux-de-vie (10 to 15 years old) are added to the cognac to add complexity and length.   Expect dried fruit and baking spices on the nose with vanilla and orange added to the palate. 

Cognac NAUD VS France - Charente-Maritime 
NAUD VS cognac is made with a blend of two crus: Bon Bois and Petite Champagne (10%). The latter is aged in new oak casks which convey finesse and structure to the cognac. The Bons Bois imparts notes which are fruity (peach, pear) and floral (vine flower). The Eaux-de-vie is double distilled in traditional small copper pot stills and is aged separately, for a minimum of 2 years in small oak casks of 350 and 400L. The cognac is then aged a third year in larger casks in order to harmonize the flavors. Expect a more toasted profile with honey, vanilla, and peaches.

Cognac NAUD XO France - Charente-Maritime
The NAUD XO cognac is made with a blend of Petite Champagne, Grande Champagne and Fins Bois. Grande Champagne is the most prestigious cru in the Cognac region and is noted for the limestone where the vines are planted. This "conveys an incredible palette of flavors to NAUD XO cognac, where one can perceive the famous note of 'Rancio' (walnut, forest) so typical of extra old Cognacs".  The youngest Eaux-de-vie within the NAUD XO cognac has been aged between 10 and 12 years. Older Eaux-de-vie (35 to 40 years old) is added before bottling to add even more complexity. Earthy, yet smooth with candied orange and baking spices, tobacco, and leather. 

French Vodka NAUD France - Charente-Maritime 
The NAUD Vodka is produced by fermenting French winter wheat that was grown northeast of Paris which is then distilled five times in a column still and then a sixth time in a typical Charentais copper pot still.  Before bottling it is cut to proof using estate spring water that was naturally filtered through limestone grounds. The result is a deeply textured and incredible smooth vodka with no burn. 

Distilled Gin NAUD France - Charente-Maritime
The NAUD Distilled Gin is produced using 12 botanicals which are first infused into the mash for 7-10 days and then distilled in a “vapor bain-marie” in small traditional copper pots stills.  This is a complex gin, exploding with citrus, floral elements, tea, and spices before the juniper finally arrives at the finish. 

Ron Naud Panamá 15 y.o Panama - Arco Seco
This Extra Old Rum is the result of a collaboration between Panamanian and Charentais Master Distillers united by Pierre Naud. The sugar cane was grown on the Peninsula de Azuero (Arco Seco), distilled, and then aged in American oak casks.  A very complex rum with sweet honey, nuts, and vanilla.  

Spiced Rum - Hidden Loot Original Panama - Arco Seco
This rum starts is distilled from molasses where the sugar cane was harvested from the Arco Seco region of Panama and then aged in Bourbon casks. Vanilla and sweet bananas are dominant with some honeyed nuts. 

Spiced Rum - Hidden Loot Dark Reserve Panama - Arco Seco
This rum starts as a 2-year-old rum distilled from molasses in a column still where the sugar cane was harvested from the Arco Seco region of Panama. Then ten fruits and spices are added such as both sweet and bitter orange, coconut, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and bird chili pepper. The oranges are most prevalent followed by some toasted coconut and vanilla. 

Pineau des Charentes - Reserve Or France - Charente-Maritime
Pinthiers Pineau des Charentes pays tribute to the distillery's ancestor, Emile Perrier, and is a 5 year cask aged blend of Cognac and grape juice ( Ugni blanc, Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon). This is an amazing fortified wine, dense with a floral nose, dried apricots, honey, candied fruits and nuts, and some baking spices. 

Pineau des Charentes - Reserve Rubis France - Charente-Maritime
Pinthiers Pineau des Charentes pays tribute to the distillery's ancestor, Emile Perrier, and is a 5-year cask-aged blend of Cognac and grape juice ( Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon). Another wonderful fortified wine marrying flavors of black fruit and cocoa with nuts and dried fruits. 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Croatian Međimurje Pušipel (Furmint)

"The first records of Pušipel originate from the first half of the 19th century when it was mentioned in the vineyards in the village Dragoslavec Breg. However, after that, the name Pušipel disappeared because it was produced under the name Šipon or Moslavac. This grape variety is also known as the Furmint in Hungary and Mosler in Austria and Germany." -  Wine & more

 

Continental Croatia is home to several small wine regions with Zagorje and Međimurje bordering Slovenia to the west and very close to Hungary to the north. Međimurje lies between the Drava and Mura rivers and is where the first gentle slopes of the Alps begin. The region has a typical continental climate, with cold winters and hot summers as well as a fairly high level of humidity. That being said, these northwestern regions are the coldest in Kontinentalna Hrvatska and are known for more aromatic grape varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Muškat, and Rhine Riesling. But Međimurje is best known for one variety: Pušipel otherwise known as Furmint in Hungary with other synonyms being Mosler, Sipon, Moslovac, and Zapfner. 

The Furmint grape is best known in Tokaj, Hungary where its late-ripening character makes it susceptible to botrytis and leads to the exceptional blended Tokaji Aszú sweet wines. Yet the grape can also be vinified into dry, single-varietal, and minerally driven wines such as Hungary's Somlo region and richer more elegant wines in Croatia's Međimurje.  

Pušipel accounts for half of all vineyard plantings in Međimurje which lead the society of Međimurje wine-makers, "HortusCroatiae", to designate it as the region's signature grape. In this regard, the society devised a unique bottle for all Međimurje Pušipel to ensure the further branding of Pušipel wine. 

For consumers in the United States, Croatian Premium Wine Imports provides access to three dry Međimurje Pušipel wines described below. 

2018 Jakopić Pušipel Classic ($25)
This Jakopić wine pedigree began in 1908 when great-grandfather Philip produced his first wines. This had lead to three generations of winemakers within their estate in Železna Gora, Međimurje. Their Pušipel vines were planted 45 years ago in sand and clay soils. This results in a wine that starts with an earthy apple and pear nose that continues into the full mouthfeel with a little lime. And expect a long satisfying finish. 

2019 Stampar Pušipel Classic ($25)
In 1928, Bolfenk Štampar marries into the family of winemaker Andraš Novak and acquires the estate and cellar that would become Vinarija Štampar. Forty years later, his successor Franjo Štampar plants Pušipel on the Krpec hill - an area of steep inclines dominated by clay with occasional marl, sediment, sparse layers of sandstone, and thin layers of black soil.  These plantings expanded with the purchase of the terraced plots on Mađerkin hill. Today, the winery is operated by the 4th generation of Štampars with the Pušipel Classic a showcase wine. It starts with a pleasant herbal, citrus, and floral nose which leads to a well-rounded mouthfeel of citrus and stone fruits. The acidity is sufficient to lift the finish but not overwhelm the palate. 

2017 Dvanajščak-Kozol Pušipel Prestige ($39)
Vina DK - Dvanajščak Kozol is a family-run operation that cultivates 10 hectares of vineyards below Mohokos (344 m above sea level) and the highest and sunniest part of Međimurje. These vineyards were initially planted in the early 1990s and include the first Pinot Noir cultivated in Međimurje. The winery is run by Viktor and Rajka Dvanajščak (both sommeliers) plus their children Tea (the youngest person to pass the sommelier exam in Croatia at 16 years old) and Viktor (a former med student). This wine has a deeper bright pear and apple profile with a full mouthfeel, depth, and suitable acidity.  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.

Monday, July 5, 2021

For the Love of Bourgogne Aligoté

Having long played a second fiddle to Chardonnay, Bourgogne’s other white grape, Aligoté, is finally getting its due! As winemakers and growers help realize its potential by giving it more attention and care in the vineyard and cellar, the spectrum of styles available of this incredibly terroir-expressive wine grows wider: Bourgogne Aligoté brims with mouthwatering acidity and salinity as well as a nose driven by green apple, peach, lemon, and white flowers, yielding expressions that can range from light and refreshing to rich and age-worthy.

Although the Aligoté grape represents less than 6 percent of Bourgogne's total vineyard planting, it has a long history in the region. It has been grown in Bourgogne since the 17th century and furthermore, the Bourgogne Aligoté appellation was created 84 years ago this July (1937).  The appellation is a regional AOC, which means that the wines can be produced throughout the Bourgogne region. However, it most prolific within the Côte Chalonnaise -- in the heart of Bourgogne -- and in particular in Bouzeron, in the northern Côte Chalonnaise. 

DNA profiling shows that Aligoté is a member of the wider Pinot family, the same as with Chardonnay. It is an early-ripening variety, is more frost-resistant than its more renowned cousins, and thus planted in cooler sites. Bourgogne Aligoté wines are generally made in stainless steel and are crisp and fresh in style, with relatively high acidity, even after undergoing complete malolactic fermentation. 

During a recent For the Love of Bourgogne Aligoté Twitter tasting hosted by Christy Canterbury, we received and reviewed four Bourgogne Aligoté wines that revealed the floral, citrus, mineral, and refreshing characters of these wines. These wines also offer great value and carry an unexpected weightiness and depth. 

Bourgogne Aligoté Buissonnier Vignerons de Buxy ($19)
Their parcels of Bourgogne Aligoté are located mainly between Buxy and Saint-Gengoux-le-National (Bouzeron) with the grapes planted in calcareous soil covered with scree and rock. The wine is made entirely in stainless steel vats allowing the grape's characters to shine. This wine has a traditional Bourgogne Aligoté profile: white stone fruit, some citrus, real butter, minerality and excellent acids. 

Bourgogne Aligoté Olivier Leflaive 2018 ($27)
The grapes for this wine were also grown in calcareous clay within Puligny and Corpeau in the Côte-d'Or, and not in the Côte Chalonnaise, and using biodynamic methods. The wine was aged primarily in stainless steel with 15% in oak. This helps develop a delicious buttery texture aligning with minerality, soft tropical fruit, and refreshing acids.

Bourgogne Aligoté Marcel Giraudon 2019 ($22)
This wine is another example of the broader Bourgogne Aligoté AOC as the estate is located in Chitry-Le-Fort - near the town of Chablis and part of the Auxerre district. The Giraudon family has been farming and making wine in Chitry for centuries, and the current proprietor, Marcel Giraudon, follows very traditional methods in his work. Their vineyards are on hillsides of Kimmeridgian chalky marl as one finds in Grand Cru Chablis.  This wine was fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel and starts with a light grassy hay and citrus aroma. This then leads to a full mouthfeel, lemons and peaches, creamy texture, and refreshing acidity. 

Bourgogne Aligoté Domaine Chevrot 2019 ($22)
This estate is located in the village of Cheilly-lès-Maranges in the Côte du Nuit, just north of Côte Chalonnaise. Some of the vines were planted 75 years ago, with an average age of 30 years, in limestone soils. The Domaine itself was established in 1830 with the current family generation opting for organic farming in 2008. This is another all stainless steel wine - although with approximately 13 months aging in the vats. It is a fantastic wine with a tropical nose and a creamy, saline, wet rock interior. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Orvieto Classico Trebbiano Toscano

Umbria is located at the very heart of the Italian Peninsula and is the only Italian region without a coastline or international border.  In the wine realm, it consists of about 15 sub-classifications with the Orvieto DOC the most prolific of these. It accounts for 80% of Umbria's vineyard plantings and most of the Umbrian wines available in the United States.  This DOC also includes the Orvieto Classico area located around the town of Orvieto itself and extends slightly eastwards to take in the land around Lake Corbara. This area reflects the original vineyard zone traditional known as Orvieto and before the DOC classifications extended these borders.

According to wine-searcher.com, "the vineyards which produce Orvieto wine are planted on both sides of the Paglia, the river which flows through Orvieto town en route to its confluence with the Tiber. The tufaceous soils and bedrock which are so characteristic of the area not only contribute to the quality of the local terroir, but are also well suited to the excavation of cellars for long-term storage". This calcareous tufa [or tufo is] ‘a porous or vesicular carbonate of lime, generally deposited near the sources and along the courses of calcareous springs’ -- Tufo (tufa) vs. calcareous, expressions of limestone in Italy.

The Orvieto DOC and Orvieto Classico are reserved exclusively for white wine and may contain between 40to 60% Trebbiano Toscano, 15 to 25% Verdello, and up to 20% maximum of Grechetto, with Canaiolo bianco (Drupeggio) and/or Malvasia Toscana accounting for the remaining percentages.  

Trebbiano Toscano has several local synonyms with the most common being Procanico, and is also synonymous with Ugni Blanc. Again via wine-searcher.com, "it is believed that Trebbiano Toscano was introduced to France during the 14th Century, when the papal court moved from Rome to Avignon, in the southern Rhône Valley. In the 15th and 16th Centuries, the variety was used in various parts of southeastern France, under the name Ugni Blanc".  The grape is disease resistant and somewhat protected from Spring frosts by being late budding but needs abundant sunshine in order to fully ripen. 

Cantine Bellini is a family winery featuring a fifth generation of winemaker and a pedigry of over a century farming the Chianti countryside. Although they specialize in Ruffino, they have expanded into the Orvieto D.O.C. under their SELENE brand with the Bellini Orvieto Classico 2020 ($10.99) - purchased at Total Wine. The wine is a blend of 50% Trebbiano, 20% each Grechetto & Verdello, and 10% Malvasia toscana. After fermentation, it spends three months in stainless steel tanks and doesn't match the standard description of Orvieto wines as a dry, peach-scented wine. Instead, this wine's aroma is dominated by floral notes, with strong minerality and a pleasant light lime character. Moderate acidity, but very crisp and light. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Teremana Small Batch Tequila

I was searching for a Tequila for our George's Margarita Mix and purchased a bottle of the Teremana Tequila Reposado ($29.99) primarily because it was on sale and from the label, appeared to be from a small craft distiller. The Blue Weber agave was harvested from the Jalisco Highland mountains, then slow-roasted for three days in small traditional brick ovens, distilled in handmade copper pot stills, and finished in bourbon barrels. The brand name refers to "Spirit of the Earth" as the  'Tere' is derived from the Latin 'terra' and 'Mana' the Polynesian word for spirit. Then a quick internet search this to be a celebrity brand of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  Impressions?

Nice funky agave - black pepper aroma on the nose. Some vanilla and more pepper in the body but disjointed with an overwhelming burnt rubber finish. Lacks depth and sweetness usually associated with reposados.  Prefer others. 

Friday, June 25, 2021

Grape Spotlight: IGT Puglia Marchese de Borgosole Fiano

It's been fascinating to read the history of Puglia and the Salento peninsula with the constant state of occupation and settlement throughout the last 2.5 millennium.  There were the ancient Greek colonies, the Romans, the Goths, the Byzantine Greeks, German Lombards, Muslim Saracens,  the 2nd Byzantine re-colonization, the Normans (before William the Great's invasion of England), the Angevins, the Aragonese Kings, the Spanish, the French Bourbons and the Neapolitan Republic, and finally, unified Italy. Each successive generation surviving the new "liberator". The main constants through this period were the cultivation of olives and vines

In November 1995, these vineyards were organized into the Puglia IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), a region-wide appellation for the Puglia region: the easternmost region in Italy, a long, narrow peninsula, bordered by two seas, the Ionian and Adriatic, with the longest coastline in the Italian peninsula.  This coastline is bordered by plains rising steadily up into low-lying mountains and is characterized by scrubby, sunbaked limestone soils, cooled down on summer evenings by fresh breezes from the Mediterranean. 

Puglia IGT regulations allow for 50 grape varieties with an even split between red and white wine grapes. Northern Puglia favors Italian classics such as Sangiovese and international varieties such as Chardonnay and Syrah. In contrast, southern Puglia favors the region's traditional varieties: Primitivo, Negroamaro and Uva di Troia for reds and Falanghina, Fiano and Muscat for whites. 

Although Fiano is better known through the neighboring region of Campania, the grape was first mentioned in text in the 13th century and widely planted until the late 1800s. Then came the devastation of the phylloxera epidemic as well as WWII and the grape was largely forgotten until it was saved from extinction by the Mastroberardino family 60+ years ago.  Today it thrives once again in Campania within the Fiano di Avellino DOCG, Sicily, and in Puglia within the Martina Franca DOC and IGT Puglia. The grape is a late ripener and thus resistant to rot in rainier areas and also favors heavy clay and volcanic soils. 

Marchese de Borgosole is a brand from Casa Vinicola Botter that highlights the unique history of the region. According to Botter, "in the 19th century, with the surrender of King Francesco II to Garibaldi and the fall of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the province of Lecce was annexed to Piedmont. A group of noble adolescents escaped from the raging of battles by taking refuge in the Serre Leccesi helped and covered by the father of one of them. Hidden by the enchanting hills, immersed in an almost fairytale landscape, it was these young people who founded the small BorgoSole.."

Bottled by A.D.V. in Fossalta di Piave, Venice, Veneto the Marchese de Borgosole IGT Puglia Fiano 2020 ($12) is available through Total Wine and the creative packaging is an eye-catcher.  The wine starts with a strong citrus and lemongrass aroma before transitioning to steely minerality. Think New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc meets Sardinian Vermentino. Works well with grilled fish. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Spirit Infused Coffee from Fire Department Coffee

I'm not a flavored coffee drinker, but I received samples of spirit-infused coffee from Fire Department Coffee -- part of their Spirit Infused Coffee Club. The company was founded in 2016 by Luke Schneider, a full-time firefighter/paramedic and a U.S. Navy veteran partnering with firefighter/paramedic Jason Patton. And "ten percent of net proceeds are donated to help provide essential resources and assistance to first responders who have been injured on the job, mentally or physically, or who are facing other serious health challenges".

The spirit-infused coffees are created using a proprietary process but basically, the whole coffee beans are infused with real spirits and then roasted -- all at their facility in Rockford, Illinois. This roasting burns off the alcohol leaving remnants of the spirit or spice. The spirits consist of bourbon, whiskey (Canadian & Irish), rum, and tequila; the spices are vanilla and cinnamon. 

Vanilla Bean Bourbon Infused Coffee ($19.99)
This coffee is smooth vanilla, not overwhelming, just enough for my tastes. There's also a small hint of nuttiness which may be the bourbon talking. This coffee is a welcome alternative to my everyday Pilon Espresso.

Peach Bourbon Infused Coffee ($19.99)
This is their best seller. I was hard-pressed to recognize any peach flavors, although it carries a bite - most likely from the bourbon - that is not bitter, just a jolt. Not bad, but still prefer the vanilla bean bourbon.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Salento IGT Torcicoda Primitivo

"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. American Zinfandel, Italian Primitivo, and Croatian Crljenak Kastelanski aka Tribidrag (a parent of Plavic Mali) are genetically identical. See Grape Spotlight: Croatian Tribidrag (Crljenak Kaštelanski, Pribidrag, Kratošija) aka Zinfandel for more more detailed information. 

This variety was introduced in Apulia at the end of the 1700s with the name “Primativo” by a priest named Francesco Indellicati. He selected this grape variety because it was the earliest to ripen. It then spread throughout southern Apulia thanks to the dedication and hard work of the Benedictine monks. 

Primitivo is a dark-skinned, early ripening grape known for producing inky, tannic wines. The grape arrived in Puglia obviously from coastal Croatia and thrives in the Salento IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) -- a regulation that covers the Salento, the limestone-based peninsula that divides the Adriatic Sea from the Ionian Sea and forms Italy's heel.  The Salento peninsula enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and long, hot, dry summers favored by its geographical location and direct contact with the Adriatic Sea. 

According to wine-searcher.com, "the Salento encompasses Puglia's three southernmost provinces, Taranto (also covered by the Tarantino IGT title), Brindisi and Lecce. Thus, the viticultural area covered by the Salento IGT title stretches 180 kilometers (100 miles) north to south. It runs from the white beaches of Leuca, past the port town of Taranto, past the Gravina di Laterza canyon, and right up to the border with Basilicata.

Salento IGT Rosso, Rosato, and Bianco blends may contain any proportion of any varieties permitted within the growing zone. Varietal wines must contain at least 85 percent of the variety on the label. Dual-variety wines must contain 50-85 percent of the first variety and 15-50 percent of the second. The same rules apply to passito rosso or bianco, late-harvest wines, and spumante bianco and rosato".

The regulations allow 50 grape varieties from international varieties to those associated with northern and central Italy such as Sangiovese and Montepulciano. In addition, Salento is also known for wines from full-blooded Puglian grapes such as Negroamaro, Primitivo, and Verdeca.

Tormaresca is a producer that owns an estate in Maime, Upper Salento in the province of Brindisi. This Masseria Maìme estate extends along the Adriatic coast and covers an area of about 500 hectares, 350 of which are planted with vines and 85 with olive groves. The most prevalent grape varieties grown are a mixture of indigenous and international:  Negroamaro, Primitivo, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. And one of these releases is available through Total Wine -- the Torcicoda Primitivo Salento IGT 2016 ($23).

The winery describes this Primitivo as having "strong ties to the rustic and rural countryside where it is produced. It was also a symbol of fertility and wealth for the local families, and in a not-too-distant past and it was even given as part of young brides’ dowries when they married. “Torcicoda” on one hand indicates an instrument that farmers once used to take care of their horses while on the other hand, it represents the coiling, luxuriant nature of the shoots and leaves of its vines, also called the vine “of three harvests” due to its abundant growth. 

This wine is intense and luscious, a red wine for these June nights which are dipping into the 50s.  Spices integrate with chocolate, tobacco, and dark fruit from start to finish. Expect texture and approachable tannins followed by rising acidity the keeps the finish active. Excellent.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Virginia Distillery Company's VHW and Courage & Conviction Through a Life of Miniatures

The Virginia Distillery Company has a couple of enticing series of whiskeys available with the first branded Courage & Conviction; their American Single Malt whisky finished in various used casks. The whisky is made using malted barley and fresh spring water fed from the Blue Ridge Mountains with the mash distilled using hand-hammered copper pot stills crafted in Scotland. The second series is branded Virginia-Highland Whiskey which blends their Virginia-made American Single Malt whisky with aged Scotch malt whisky and then aging in various used casks. The American Single Malt whisky is the base for the Courage & Conviction line.  The Scotch malt whisky comes from a stock they purchased many years ago when building out their distillery and needing a product to release.   And even more enticing is their release of miniatures allowing consumers to taste the series without spending the $70-80 per bottle. 

According to the distillery, "the whiskies of Courage & Conviction, developed under the tutelage of Dr. Jim Swan, feature three core cask types:

  • Bourbon casks: These barrels formerly held Kentucky bourbon from well-known distilleries. Aging in American oak bourbon casks add notes of vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, oak, smoke and cinnamon. 

  • Sherry casks:  The distillery uses Sherry cask types, including Fino, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez. These casks give the whisky notes of tart cherry, golden raisin, fig, caramelized plum, brown sugar and spice. 

  • Cuvée casks:  This innovative barrel is sourced from premium European red wine producers. After the wine is removed, the cask is broken down, the interior shaved, re-toasted and re-charred, and then put back together again. The re-toasting and re-charring of the cask energize the wood sugars and brings forward barrel spice, bright red fruit and toasted pecan.

The flagship Courage & Conviction American Single Malt Whisky is a target recipe of 50% Bourbon Cask, 25% Sherry Cask and 25%. The base spirit definitely provides a Scottish cerealy, salty, and peaty profile. Then the fresh and dried fruit flavors surface which continue through to a lengthy low burning finish. 

The Courage & Conviction Bourbon Cask is blunt and harsh. There's a burnt toast feel that ends with a strong coughing burn. 

The Courage & Conviction Sherry Cask is, contrastingly, outstanding. There's a complex aroma, figs and nuts, that continue into the core where it combines with more dense fruit A bit of funk lingers with the smooth tail. This is bottle-worthy.

The Courage & Conviction Cuvée Cask starts with red fruit on the nose which leads to cherry notes, a little chocolate, and a sweeter caramelized and less cerealy, salty, and peaty profile. Little to no burn.  This may be bottle-worthy.

The VHW Port Cask Finished Whisky is made from the base Virginia-Highland Whiskey which is then finished in a combination of Port-style wine casks from Virginia and traditional Tawny Port casks for a minimum of 12 months. The Scotch takes primary focus but eventually yields to dried fruits (figs) and hints of coffee and cocoa. It's a pleasant sipper - even while just enjoying the aroma. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Salice Salentino Negroamaro

"Puglia's Salento Peninsula is arguably the source of the finest Negroamaro wines, particularly those produced under the Salice Salentino DOC title" - wine-searcher.com

 

Let's discover why. It is believed that Negroamaro originated in Greece and at least 1,500 years ago migrated through the Balkins and across the Adriatic Sea. This dark-skinned grape variety found a home in Puglia's warm Mediterranean climate, particularly in Salice Salentino, where, despite being landlocked enjoys cool breezes from both the Adriatic Sea and the Gulf of Taranto. In addition, the grape's hardiness provides a drought tolerance critical in the harsh climate at Italy's lower boot.  These conditions allow Negroamaro vines to achieve optimum levels of ripeness. 

According to wine-searcher.com, "Negroamaro is valued for its deep color, medium-full tannins, and dark berry fruit flavors. The variety can also add earthen tones that can cross over into slightly medicinal flavors. It is mildly aromatic and can produce complex wines that show characteristics of ground brown spices such as clove, cinnamon, and allspice."

The Salice Salentino DOC was created in 1976 centered on the town of Salice and spreading out to the north and west. Initially, the regulations covered only red wines but eventually white, rosé, fortified, and sparkling wines were permitted in subsequent revisions.  The DOC favors the production of a single varietal Negroamaro (90%) but also provides for a red blend with the final wine requiring 75% Negroamaro. Vines in Salice Salentino are generally planted in deep clay-limestone soils and receive up to 300 days of sunshine each year - with many of these days exceeding 104°F.  

You would think that these conditions would yield extremely high alcohol wines - but the Cantele Salice Salentino DOC Rosso Riserva 2015 ($12) weighs in at only 13%. The wine is enjoyable in every aspect -- and not just the price. It starts with earthy plums on the nose, then a dusty cherry and allspice interior, finishing with approachable tannins and surprisingly lifting acids. The north-south exposure obviously allows for sufficient nighttime cooling. Although this family estate winery is only 30 years old, it is operated by the third generation of Canteles and a local leader in predictive and integrated agriculture practices.  We look forward to visiting this summer to learn more about Negroamaro, Salice Salentino, Puglia, and Cantina Cantele. Cheers.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Coteaux Champenois Pinot Meunier with Champagne Demière

Still wines in the prestigious sparkling wine region of Champagne? That is what is covered by the Coteaux Champenois appellation that shares the same geographic region as Champagne. These two regions are located at the northern latitude of 49°N which is at the northern edge of France's vineyard-growing areas and thus experience the lowest average temperatures than any other French wine region. According to wine-searcher.com, "the majority of its vineyards are planted in a temperate maritime climate with slight continental influences, particularly in the southeast. These climatic conditions, combined with the region's latitude (48 to 49 degrees north), mean that the wines produced under the Coteaux Champenois appellation are, like their sparkling counterparts, dry and light-bodied with naturally high acidity". 

Production regulations for Coteaux Champenois allow for smaller geographical indicators on the label of Coteaux Champenois wines, all the way down to small, local (cadastral) titles. This is apparent in one of our wines today, from the "les Accaties" locality.

Pinot Meunier is one of the seven approved grape varieties in Coteaux Champenois and basically shares the same DNA fingerprint as Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and other Pinot grapes. The word Meunier is French for "miller", and refers here to the "floury" appearance of the underside of the vines' leaves.  Generally in Coteaux Champenois, Pinot Meunier is planted in regions that are too cold for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to grow fruitfully.  In this regard, Meunier adds even more acidity and tartness to both still and sparkling wines. 

Champagne Demière is a sparkling wine producer that also releases still wines using the Coteaux Champenois regulations. In the Hopwine program, they showcased their innovated winemaking and aging techniques utilizing traditional wooden presses, egg-shaped vats, and a "champagne-styled" solera. This third-generation family domain operates estates around the village of Fleury la Rivière at the edge of the Montagne de Reims Champagne subregion. The terroir is distinguished by clayey-sandy soils, and of course, its famed calcareous subsoils including maritime fossils dating back to the Lutecian era. 

Champagne Demière  France - Champagne Coteaux Champenois Solera Venerable 100% Meunier
This "Vénérable" Coteaux Champenois Blanc is the oldest wine from the estate with the solera system dating back to 1978. Each year, if the quality of the vintage allows, the solera is augmented with 20% of the wine for that vintage. The original solera was stored in a wooden vat but has hence been transferred to stainless steel.  This is a complex wine with, green apples, lemons, and peaches associating with dried nuts. There's also a distinct tartness that sizzles with the intense acidity. 

Champagne Demière  France - Champagne Coteaux Champenois Ataraxy 100% Meunier
This Ataraxy Rosé, Coteaux Champenois originates from old vine Meunier plots located in the Fleury-la-Rivière locality "les Accaties".  The wine is aged 10 months in oak and is bottled in its natural state (no filtering and no fining). This is a fantastic rosé, starting with a peach aroma that leads to creamy and textured raspberries with noticeable saline. It is that fresh saline that drives my desire for more of this one. 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Thirsty for Small-Batch & Local Spirits with the Kozuba & Sons Distillery Quince Cordial

Throughout the American experience, there have been hundreds - perhaps thousands - of individuals immigrating to this country who then opened a brewery, distillery, or planted vines corresponding to the practices in their home countries. But how many have literally migrated the complete operation from their home country to the United States? That's what occurred with Florida's Kozuba & Sons Distillery where Zbigniew Kozuba and his sons Matthias and Jacob moved their Polish distillery from Jablonka to St. Petersburg. 

During the latter part of the 2000s, the Kozuba family opened the distillery in order to fulfill escalating requests for cordials that Zbigniew had starting infusing in retirement from a biochemist career. Soon they augmented their portfolio with vodka distilled from a  hybrid copper still and became the " first family-owned and operated micro-distillery in post-war Poland".   In 2012 they started distilling the first Polish single malt whiskey along with other experimental whiskeys but eventually discovered that "Poland’s highly monopolized industry did not have room for a small, family-operated craft operation". 

They then decided to move to a country "thirsty for small-batch, local spirits" and the most logical choice was the United States and St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District. In 2014, they migrated their operation to the Sunshine State including two hybrid copper stills, both hand-made by Arnold Holstein in Germany. One still is dedicated to vodka production, and the other to whiskey production. 

During our recent trip to the area for a brewery - baseball tour, I quickly ran into the distillery in order to purchase and bring home their Quince Cordial ($20, 32.5%  abv,  375ml). I have been a consumer of Serbian Quince brandies for a number of years and have noticed generally tropical aromas and pear flavors. Quince 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. The Kozuba & Sons Quince Cordial is made macerating whole quince fruits and then aging for several years.  No preservatives, artificial colors, or flavors are used in the production process. 

Drinking neat, the Quince Cordial shows excellent dense fruit, both quince and fig;  but the syrupy texture begs for a cocktail. I found The Quinclet online and it packs a wallop but my favorite use was a recommendation by Keli Rivers when discussing her book, Negroni: More than 30 Classic and Modern Recipes for Italy's Iconic Cocktail. She likes to order a cider, take a large swig and then top off with Campari. I replicated with the cordial and it works by augmenting the refreshing apple flavors with denser pomme fruit. Na Zdrowie!





The Quinclet

The quince gives the finished article a more rounded flavor than a straight gimlet, however, the lime juice and bitters lend a pleasing bite to the finish.

Ingredients & Equipment:

40ml Dry Gin
20ml Quince Cordial
20ml Lime juice
Liberal dash, Angostura Bitters
Lime zest, to garnish
Cocktail shaker
Ice
Martini glass, chilled

Procedure:
Pour a couple of drops of bitters into the martini glass.
Give the gin, cordial, and lemon juice a jolt in a shaker with a couple of ice cubes.
Strain into the martini glass and garnish with a strip of lime zest.
Sit down before drinking!

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Single Village Del Maguey Vida de San Luis Del Rio Mezcal

Continuing our exploration of mezcal with the widely distributed (thanks to the distillery's purchase by international spirits company Pernod Ricard) and easily recognized Del Maguey Vida de San Luis Del Rio Mezcal  ($37). The distillery - named after the Taino word for agave - was founded in 1995 by Ron Cooper who envisioned opening the United States to previously unavailable "100% certified organic, artisanal Mezcal produced using original handcrafted methods".  And in particular, this brand was intended to highlight individual villages by releasing single village mezcals. The green bottles are also easily recognized by their distinctive Ken Price labels and palm fiber bottle covers. The Vida label is Price's artistic interpretation of an agave farm.

The Vida is crafted as an entry-level Mezcal with "an ABV profile called for by bartenders around the world".  It is traditionally handcrafted from 100% mature agave Espadín by the family of Paciano Cruz Nolasco in the village of San Luis Del Rio.  The Nolascos are also responsible for the Crema de MezcalSan Luis Del Rio, Madrecuixe, and Tobaziche labels. The Vida Mezcal starts with vicious smoke on aroma which may be why bartenders favor it as an ingredient. The smoke stretches like the palm fiber covers through the flavor profile. The base is a smooth and creamy sweet agave core laced with tropical fruit. The smooth tail lasts with zero burn and elevating the smoked agave. 

The first cocktail I tried with it is a version of the Mezcal Mule using our reliable Appalachian Brewing Company Ginger Beer. The ginger and smoke dance together as the bite from the ginger beer elevates the mezcal.  An alternative is to add Grapefruit juice to provide more tang and to lengthen consumption. Check back for more cocktail recipes. Cheers. 

Mezcal Mule
Ginger Beer
Del Maguey Vida
Lime juice

Del Maguey Vida Production Notes:
Village: San Luis Del Rio
Palenquero: Paciano Cruz Nolasco, Marcos Cruz Mendez
State: Oaxaca
Region: Valles Centrales
Maguey: Espadin
Agave Species: A. angustifolia haw
Age of Maguey: 7-8 years
Elevation: 2952 feet (900 meters)
Roast Duration: 3-8 days
Type of Wood: Mezquite, Quebrachi, Huamuchil, Pitayo,
Pochotle, Tepeguaje, Copal Tepomaco, Pino, Encino
Milling: Molino, Electric
Size of Tinas: 1400 L
Fermentation Duration: 8-10 days
Water Source: Rio Hormiga Colorada
Still Type: Copper
Still Size: 350 L
ABV of Mezcal: 42%
Liquid Profile: Vida is distilled to be more widely available with an ABV profile called for by bartenders around the world. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Barbera d’Asti Through the Wines of Vinchio Vaglio

This landscape covers five distinct wine-growing areas with outstanding landscapes and the Castle of Cavour, an emblematic name both in the development of vineyards and in Italian history. It is located in the southern part of Piedmont, between the Po River and the Ligurian Apennines, and encompasses the whole range of technical and economic processes relating to the winegrowing and winemaking that has characterized the region for centuries. Vine pollen has been found in the area dating from the 5th century BC, when Piedmont was a place of contact and trade between the Etruscans and the Celts; Etruscan and Celtic words, particularly wine-related ones, are still found in the local dialect. During the Roman Empire, Pliny the Elder mentions the Piedmont region as being one of the most favourable for growing vines in ancient Italy; Strabo mentions its barrels." -- Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe-Roero and Monferrato - UNESCO


Barbera d’Asti is one of the most famous wines from the Piedmont region of north-western Italy, focusing on soft and approachable styles of Barbera. In 1959 the cooperative Vinchio Vaglio was created, representing 192 family wine growers and 450 hectares.  Located in the Piedmont Monferrato above, the members of Vinchio Vaglio witnessed their Barbera d’Asti becoming a DOC in 1970 and upgrading to its current DOCG classification in 2008. 

Map courtesy of UNESCO.

"The DOCG catchment area is located in the hilly areas of the Asti and Alessandria provinces in eastern Piedmont, where the region shares its borders with Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna. The vineyards which produce Barbera d'Asti wine are typically situated on hilly terrain, ranging in altitude anywhere from 90 to 300 meters (300ft to 1,000ft). The territory spans a relatively large area that adjoins the production area of Barbera d’Alba to the northeast. In 2018 3,384 hectares (8,358 acres) were recorded for the appellation. Production in the following year was just over 16 million liters, equivalent to just under 1.8 million cases." -- winesearcher.com.

Through the Hopwine program, we tasted several wines from Vinchio Vaglio, all 100% Barbera and reflecting unique vineyards sites within the region. For instance, the Vigne Vecchie (Old Vineyards) label designates a program started by Giuliano Noè with the purpose of safeguarding historical vineyards.  The program sources Barbera grapes from within the cooperative that are at least 50 years old.  The "I tre Vescovi" (The three bishops) brand is made from grapes grown in the “core zones” of the UNESCO World Heritage “Vineyard Landscapes of Piedmont.” This name refers to the area where the borders of the towns of Acqui Terme, Alessandria, and Asti meet and where according to legend the bishops of these three dioceses used to meet on this neutral ground to hold discussions. 

Barbera d’Asti D.O.C.G. Superiore I Tre Vescovi 2018
The 100% Barbera wine is sourced from core zones of the UNESCO World Heritage Vineyard Landscapes of Piedmont. It is aged in 75 hl large French oak casks and barrique for 12 months followed by an additional month in stainless steel tanks and six months in the bottle before release. It starts with a vibrant floral and mint aroma which leads to a juicy and textured body elevated by the approachable acids and tannins. 

Barbera d’Asti D.O.C.G. Vigne Vecchie 50° 2018
This 100% Barbera celebrates the winery's 50th Anniversary and is from the Vigne Vecchie - Old Vineyards project. This wine was aged only in stainless steel, no oak, in order to maintain the true characteristics of the grape. This wine is fantastic - floral and herbaceous with cherry barnyard earthiness and sufficient tannins regardless of oak. 

Nizza Riserva D.O.C.G. Laudana 2016
Bricco Laudana is the name of a south-facing ridge of hills between Vinchio and Mombercelli in which this Barbera is sourced. The sandy soils with a relatively small content of clay produce grapes with elevated aromas and structure; whereas the south-facing exposure and mild winds provide conditions that lengthen the growing season.  The "Nizza" refers to a philosophy combining innovation and tradition which in this case leads to 18 months of aging in new oak and second and third-year French barrique. The wine then rests in cement tanks for another month prior to bottling, followed by six months of bottle aging before release. Expect healthy dark cherries, sizzling acidity, and chewy tannins. 

Barbera d’Asti D.O.C.G. Sorì dei Mori 2019
This relatively young Barbera is sourced from grapes with the core UNESCO zone and is aged for only six months in cement tanks prior to bottling, followed by three months of bottle aging. Once again, no oak. Expect a very fruit-forward pleasant wine with enough rustic character to remain interesting. 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Vineyard Pests: Brood X Periodical Cicadas Coming to a Vineyard Near You

This was the title of an article in the March 2021 Viticulture Notes by Tony K. Wolf, Viticulture Extension Specialist, AHS Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Winchester, Virginia and based on information from Dr. Doug Pfeiffer’s fruit extension site: https://www.virginiafruit.ento.vt.edu/

For those of us in Fairfax County Virginia, the 17-year, periodical cicada ‘Brood X’ has emerged in full force creating a mess on our driveways and walkways while emitting a deafening racket.  According to the Viticulture Notes article, residents of the northern Shenandoah Valley and parts of the northern piedmont can expect a similar situation. But what effect will the cicadas have on vineyards?  I reached out to several growers and wine producers and want to thank Jake Busching (Jake Busching Wines), Shannon Horton (Horton Vineyards), Jennifer Breaux (Breaux Vineyards), and Jack Sexton (Williams Gap Vineyard) for their responses.

https://www.cicadas.info/
Jake Busching had the most succinct answer. "Cicadas will harm new canes. They have a saw on their abdomen that cuts deep furrows into the cane so they can inject their eggs. The cane will most likely die from that point outwards. If you have older pruned vines you’re fine".  And Wolf explains, "...because lateral buds and shoots can easily compensate for the shoot damage that can occur with older vines ... injured shoots will be pruned off later ".  He continues, "However, young vines are subject to severe injury, with females using even the trunks as oviposition sites.  Oviposition may occur at multiple sites on one shoot or young trunk; affected areas become weak and will break easily (Eggs in the shoots may be seen on dissection of the injured material). Young vineyards should be protected."

It's obviously too late now, but the best advice is not to plant a new vineyard 1-2 years before an expected emergence of periodical cicada. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

WhistlePig 10 Year Rye and The Auctioneer

Thanks to Melania (Dallas Wine Chick) and her recent spirit exchange I received a bottle of the WhistlePig 10 Year Rye ($50, 100 proof) that began with the help of the late Master Distiller Dave Pickerell. They "discovered and purchased an incredible stock of 10-year-old blending Whiskey in Canada that was being profoundly misused".  This whiskey was then aged in new American Oak at the distillery in Shoreham Vermont to allow the rye to reach its full potential. This spirit is complex, with lots of baking spices on the nose, followed by the spicy rye mingling with caramel and vanilla that extends into the long and hot tail. 

WhistlePig has also launched an interesting barrel program where they experiment with various used casks as well as local, sustainably harvested, Vermont Estate Oak barrels.  The former include Sauternes, Madeira, and Port casks whereas the latter includes a custom toast profile for the Vermont oak. I need to try the 12-Year-Old aged in these world casks and the 15 Year Old aged in Vermont Oak. 

In the meantime, I'll be sipping this 10-Year_old over ice or in The Auctioneer, a cocktail that the distillery recommends where I heated the honey with a little water so it dissolves easily and used the Puerto Rico Distillery Coffee Rum with an equal amount of the Burmuda Coconut Liqueur.  Cheers.

The Auctioneer
1 ½ oz PiggyBack Rye
1 bar spoon local Honey
¼ oz Coconut Rum
½ oz Mr. Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur
Orange for garnish

Directions
Add all ingredients to an old fashioned glass.
Stir without ice to incorporate honey.
Add ice.
Stir again.
Garnish with an orange twist.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Sud-Ouest France, Fronton, Gaillac, & IGP Comte Tolosan Through the Wines of Vignobles Arbeau

Sud-Ouest France (south-West, France) is a large territorial zone stretching just southwest of Bordeaux to the Atlantic Ocean and bordering the Pyrenees to the south.  It incorporates several administrative regions, diverse geographic areas, and multiple wine grapes and styles. This includes sweet wines from Jurancon and Monbazillac; tannic, full-blooded reds from Cahors (Côt aka Malbec) and Madiran (Tannat); sparkling wines from Gaillac; and a wide range of dry white wines.

Wine Scholar Guild

According to wine-searcher.com, "The soils, climates, and topography of the South West are as wide-ranging as its wines. The presence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea means that much of the region has a maritime climate, but there are inland areas that make use of the drier, hotter summers created by their more continental climate. The Garonne, Dordogne, Lot, and Tarn rivers bring alluvial soil types (clay, sand, gravel) to much of the region. Other vineyard areas, such as Irouleguy and the wider Bearn are also set on the steep slopes and foothills of the Pyrenees mountains, offering a variety of stone types, along with varying altitudes and aspects".

A recent Hopwine exhibition included a couple wineries from the Sud-Ouest starting with Vignobles Arbeau. The winery and estate (Château Coutinel) are located in the village of Labastide Saint Pierre, within the AOP Fronton, with the village located 42km north of Toulouse and about equidistant between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. They also range beyond AOP Fronton to other South-West domains: AOP Gaillac, IGP Comté Tolosan, and IGP Côtes du Tarn. Our friends at Grape Experiences have a post concerning the winery's history and signature Négrette grape. 

AOP Fronton is an appellation to the north of Toulouse known for its rustic red wines (around 85 percent of production) in addition to smaller amounts of rosé. At least 50 percent of any Fronton vineyard must be planted with the Negrette grape (40% of any blended wine). Since the berries are small and tightly bundled, they are susceptible to powdery mildew and grey rot. Thus, the vines prefer hot, dry growing conditions and thrive in Fronton's dry, semi-continental climate. It is also particularly fond of the region's acidic, sandy clay boulbène soil type. 

Chateau Coutinel France - Sud-Ouest AOC Fronton Rosé 2020
This is a blend of 70% Négrette, 15% Syrah, and 15% Gamay grown on boulben, sandy-silt, and sometimes gravely soils.  This is a pleasant wine, candied cherry aroma, velvety texture, and lifting acids.

Chateau Coutinel France - Sud-Ouest AOC Fronton 2019
Same blend and soil types as the rosé showing fresh sizzling raspberries. Poprocks?

Chateau Coutinel Négrette / On L'appelle Négrette France - Sud-Ouest Fronton 2019
100%  Negrette grown on same soil types. This is a delicious wine, juicy and dense blackberries, some licorice, with suitable tannins and acids.

IGP Comte Tolosan is a large sub-region in the Sud-Ouest and encompasses 12 administrative departments, including the sub-regions of Jurançon, Cahors and Armagnac. The IGP label provides a geographical classification to wines that do not classify for the AOC-level appellations due to the grape variety or winemaking style. "Most IGP-related viticulture takes place in the center of the basin, along the course of the Garonne river. Old alluvial terraces provide well-drained, rocky environments for the vines, allowing for good flavor concentration in the grapes and deep, healthy root systems".

One popular grape in the IGP and other sub-regions is Braucol, a member of the Carmenets family and originating in the Spanish Basque Country. It is thought to have migrated to the region via pilgrims traveling the Way of Saint James. Specifically, it was spread by the Benedictine monks of Madiran and Conques who had recognized its rusticity allowing its cultivation in the Pyrenees and Aveyron. A synonym is Fer Servadou translating to wild and keeps well because it's a lambrusque (wild vine) and is highly resistant to mold. 

Domaine De Coutinel France - Sud-Ouest IGP Comté Tolosan Braucol 2020
This 100% Braucol wine begins with slight pepper but retains a soft elegance that carries through the finish.

AOP Gaillac is a historic wine-producing region located northeast of Toulouse and covers 64 communes spread out for roughly 20km (12 miles) from the town of Gaillac on the Tarn river. A further nine communes within the appellation lie on the other side of the town of Albi, on the eastern edge of the main winegrowing area. 

Duras – Fer – Syrah is the classic Gaillac wine blend with the Fer referring to Braucol. Together these three varieties make up at least 60 percent of any Gaillac red or rosé wine. Duras is an ancient grape variety, thought to have been introduced to France by the Romans more than 2000 years ago. In Sud-Ouest France, notably around Gaillac, it produces well-structured red wines full of color and alcohol.

Domaine Vaillieres France - Sud-Ouest AOP Gaillac 2019
This blend of 50% Braucol, 25% Duras, and 25% Syrah is from grapes from clay and limestone soils on the right bank of the Tarn River. It is very rustic, with a spicy-stoney character accentuated with a strong tannic backbone. A knockout. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

A Free State Collaboration: Dragon Dog's Frederick Rye Whiskey

Frederick Maryland is at the crossroads of many family road trips,  those leading north on Route 15 towards Thurmont and Pennsylvania or those leading west towards Cumberland, Seven Springs, and beyond.  It also explains the high frequency of Civil War battles fought in the city or surrounding land including the battles of Antietam and to some extent Gettysburg.  Today, Frederick city and county is a craft beverage destination with a plethora of wineries, cideries, breweries, and distilleries. 

Two of these are Maryland's largest brewery, Flying Dog Brewery, and Dragon Distillery. Flying Dog beers are widely distributed, of excellent quality, and are known for the Hunter S. Thompson inspired labels drawn by artist Ralph Steadman. Dragon Distillery is a small operation whose Frederick county roots dates to the mid-1700s.  Some of their products are inspired by the Founder's great-grandfather Bad Bill Tutt and long-held family recipes. 

A newer recipe is a collaboration between Flying Dog and Dragon called Dragon Dog's Frederick Rye Whiskey ($42, 48%) and is marketing as "Frederick's first Rye Whiskey". Flying Dog prepares a mash using a proprietary blend of nine specialty rye grains which is then fermented and aged at the distillery. Over ice, the spirit provides a spicy wet stone aroma, with the spice and rye packing cinnamon and other dry baking spices. The heat is noticeable upfront but quickly backs off during the tail. 

And as a BevFluence contributor, we are still beating the Negroni drum via recipes from Negroni, More than 30 classic and modern recipes for Italy's iconic cocktail ($12) by David T. Smith and  Keli Rivers available by Ryland, Peters, & Small.  An offshoot of the Boulevardier is the Old Pal which replaces the bourbon with rye whiskey and calls for equal parts rye, Campari, and Cochi Americano or red vermouth.  My version of the Old Pal uses the Mt. Defiance Distillery Sweet Vermouth ($19, 350ml) (pre-mixed with Campari) and with the Dragon Dog provides a very dry and chalky version of this cocktail where it feels like the glass has been rimmed with cinnamon powder.  

Friday, April 30, 2021

Exploring the Tampa Ale Trail

This week we spent several days in the St. Pete - Clearwater area in order to attend a couple MLB games (saw Vlad's three dingers) which afforded opportunities to visit several breweries along the Tampa Ale Trail. There are 81 breweries participating in the 2021 passport program - located as far north as the Greek community in Tarpon Springs through the BlueJay city of Dunedin to Tampa then St. Petersburg and ending at rejuvenated Gulfport. 

Cigar City Brewing
Located within a mile of the Tampa Airport, this iconic Florida brewery recently expanded its tasting room since my last visit. At this location, they also provide in-house only offerings like the Terrifyingly Competent -- a juicy American Pale Ale. This pairs nicely with the Cuban Meatloaf. Follow with a taster of the Bon Vivant's Companion - an American sour ale with raspberries aged in rum and orange curacao barrels.

Clearwater Brewing Company
Housed on a formal gas station this brewery is situated on the outskirts of north Clearwater on the short drive to Dunedin. Although there are about eight breweries within a 3/4 mile radius in that town, don't overlook Clearwater Brewing. The front and back patios provide enough open space to enjoy the Comfy Cream Ale - one of the best of these styles we've tasted.  For the sour lover, go for the raspberry puree Raspberry Romper Calzone Berliner Weisse -- this is richer than others. 

Cycle Brewing
Located in downtown St. Pete and part of an easy walking brewery tour this brewery specializes in its barrel program - most notably aging stout with different ingredients.  Our favorite is the Cherry Wine - a rare DOS aged in Frederiksdal Cherry Wine barrels for 34 months. This is dense with notes of dark chocolate covered cherries. The Saturday is equally dense with copious amounts of chocolate and for a little kick try the Rare DOS 1 Year Aged -- aged one year in a used whiskey barrel. 

Gulfport Brewery + Eatery
This brewery was a great find - not only the establishment itself but also walking the small downtown area of Gulfport. This town had experienced depressed conditions for a number of years until receiving a Federal revitalization grant which they put to good use. Plenty of food is available - which is a condition for any business selling alcohol in the town - plus another barrel program based on the Gulfporter, an American Porter.  Of the four, the Toasted Walnut & Honey was the favorite -- this reminiscent of a Walnut liqueur. But don't skip the Tahitian Vanilla & Coconut, Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate, or the Mocha Coffee.  And definitely, don't skip the Disston City Lager, named after Gulfport's former name and a fantastic representation of a Pre-Prohibition Pilsner.  Love it when breweries produce solid lighter beers where there's no place to hide defects.

Overflow Brewing Company
Another downtown St. Pete brewery and with an extensive beer list, particularly for those who enjoy a sour lineup. The Obsidian Currants is reminiscent of a Flemish sour and extremely tart. The Persimmon Punch is a tropical fruit drink and the Flowers Just Because is a tasty and light Berliner Weisse. The favorite however is the Going Green, a Gose made like a superfoods smoothie - kale, spinach, celery, apples, and more. The veggies are subtle.


St. Pete Brewing Company
The original St. Pete brewery, this one offers both several IPAs and lighter-styled beers. For the latter, the Put Me In Kolsch is your daytime quaffer - packing plenty of flavors. In the evening theirs a Scottish Ale, Imperial Stout, Tripel -- but Localtopia IPA with the aromatic hops was our choice. 


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Ancient Armenian Voskehat & Areni

Genesis 9.20:  Now Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard.

Archaeological evidence uncovered in 2010 shows that grape growing and wine-making in ancient Armenia pre-date the biblical flood and Noah's planting of grapes in the mountains of Ararat by 1,500 years. "... researchers with the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Armenian Institute of Archeology and Ethnography unearthed archeological evidence of the world's oldest known winery in the village of Areni in southeastern Armenia. Beneath a layer of sheep manure inside a cave, the remains of crushed grapes and vessels for collecting and fermenting grape juice dating to 6,100 years ago were recovered, proving that humans produced wine systematically one thousand years earlier than thought. Additionally, traces of a grape used in red wine production today were found on pot shards at the excavation site, forging a new link between ancient and modern wine production." -- Smithsonian Magazine

Present-day Armenia consists of several wine regions with the focus here on a trio: Aragatsotn, Armavir, and Vayots Dzor. Aragatsotn is a wine region that dates back to the time of Noah. located between 1000-1400 meters above sea level, the region lies near Yerevan -- the capital and largest city of Armenia and one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities. With Ararat visible in the distance, this region is the birthplace of the old Armenian grape type Voskehat, known as the “queen” of Armenian grapes, and was first cultivated 3500 years ago. 

Armavir is a province in the northwest of Armenia and is the largest region for quality wine production in the country as well as for brandy distilling. Most of the vineyards on the plain lie between 900 and 1,100 meters in altitude (2,950 to 3,600ft). Vineyards are mostly planted in volcanic soils.

Vayots Dzor is a mountainous province in southeastern Armenia. As described above, it is one of the oldest documented wine-producing regions in the world and is the birthplace of Areni, the country’s main indigenous red variety. The vineyards here lie mainly between 950 and 1,200 meters above sea level (3,100 to 3,950ft). 

Storica Wines is an Armenian wine import company providing access to several Armenian wineries to the American consumer.  Two of these are Keush and Zulal -- both started by Vahe Keushguerian and his family.  "Over the past decade or so, he has identified numerous ancient indigenous varieties and set up multiple nurseries to revive and propagate them throughout the country’s fledgling wine industry" -- Noah's ArtKeush is a label based on the family name and specializes in sparkling wine. The Zulal brand attempts to find the purest expression of the local environment by selecting combing rows of abandoned vineyards and after genetically identifying the grape variety, harvesting enough to fill a tank.  Obviously a painstaking endeavor. 


KEUSH Origins ($25.99) sparkling wine is a blend of the Armenian indigenous varieties Voskehat and Khatouni. In fact, this wine is the first traditional method sparkler crafted with Armenian indigenous grapes. Just imagine sparkling lemon and nut bread. These grapes were harvested from vineyards 1,750m above sea level planted in limestone soils on volcanic rock. The 6,000-year-old Armenian viticulture history comes alive with Origins. 

Zulal Voskehat 2018 ($19.99, 13%)
Voskehat translates to "goldenberry" and is a late-ripening thick-skinned ancient grape variety. It is widespread in Aragatsotn, Armavir, and Vayots Dzor. According to the winery, "Voskehat is known for its complex stone fruity aromas and has been used for a wide range of wine types including dry white, sparkling, as well as dessert, and fortified wines". The grapes for this wine were grown on volcanic soils at 1400 meters in Aghavnadzor village of Vayots Dzor region.  The wine starts with honeysuckle, then mostly pears with depth and slightly herbaceous. Full mouthfeel

Zulal Areni 2018 ($21.99, 13%)
The grapes for this wine were grown at 1400-1750 meter elevations in volcanic soil from the Aghavnadzor and Khachik villages of Vayots Dzor.  This wine has medium body and tannins, slight white pepper and mint, long sizzling acidity,

Zulal Areni Reserve 2018 ($32.99, 14%)
The grapes for this wine were grown on a single plot of volcanic soil situated at 1200 meters in the Arpa Valley, Vayots Dzor. As opposed to the wine above, the Reserve undergoes additional oak treatment which rounds out the flavor profile and adds a little spice. Expect velvety blueberries, slight, slight spice, great mouthfeel - long finish. 



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