Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Maryland Bourbon at Twin Valley Distillers

Rockville's East Gude Drive has turned into a mini craft beverage destination with Saints Row Brewing and True Respite Brewing Company bookends to the lone distillery Twin Valley Distillers. I visited this distillery on an early Saturday morning to see the new location they moved into a couple years back. They utilize two sections of the warehouse with the tasting room -- cocktail bar on the right and the distillery itself intersecting on the left.  

Twin Valley specializes in Bourbon as well as spirits aging in bourbon barrels -- each as much as possible using locally sourced ingredients. Their showcase bourbons are the Maryland Whiskey Company labels -- the Special Year Straight and Single Cask 2-year Straight. For sipping at the bar I chose the Grand Thoroughbred Single Cask Wheat Bourbon which was named after the state horse of Maryland. This is a friendly bourbon, very smooth and round with hay and soft vanilla. Unfortunately, this tasting bottle was the sole survivor until bottling next month. However, the bartender recommended the 1812 Blended Bourbon  ($40, 45%) which combines both of their single cask bourbons. This whiskey has a rounded mouthfeel, caramel, oak, and honey with a slightly smoky tail. A nice addition to my bar. 

Rounding out the portfolio at Twin Valley are the bourbon barrel-aged spirits, clear spirits, and ready-to-drink cocktails & flavored spirits. On the barrel-aged side are the 1794 Bourbon Barrel Maryland Rye Whiskey, Bourbon Barrel-Aged Rum, and the Reverend Paul's Bourbon Barrel-Aged Malt Whiskey. The clear spirits consist of the Norbeck Vodka made from corn and the Maryland Rum Company Silver Rum distilled from molasses from Baltimore's Domino sugar. Finally, there are several flavored spirits and cocktails from Limoncello to Peanut Butter Whiskey. Check out the product list for more details. 

And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to this and other craft beverage destinations. Cheers. 

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Swig & Ramble Season 1 Finale: The Tastes of 2021

Thanks to the fine folks at Swig & Ramble for having me as a guest to discuss my favorite spirits of 2021.  In between Mark interrupting Julia we discussed several Virginia and New York craft spirits from Dida's Distillery, Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, Cooperstown Distillery,  Hillrock Estate Distillery, and Kings County Distillery. There's also a shoutout to Florida's St. Augustine Distillery, plus my 2021 favorite -- the Maggie's Farm Rum - Allegheny Distilling Sherry Finished Rum -- American grown sugar cane fermented and distilled in Pittsburgh PA. Follow the Swig & Ramble Facebook Group to receive updates on the 2022 show schedule. Cheers.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Brewing History: The Silver Branch Vespucci Connection Dry Hopped Pilsner

A recent pint at Silver Branch Brewing Company turned into a history lesson involving trans-Atlantic exploration, the Columbia Exchange, and the genetics of German lager yeast.  In general, I prefer German Pilsners over the Bohemian versions most likely for their breadier and lower hop profile. Thus when faced with these two versions at Silver Branch I chose the Vespucci Connection, a dry-hopped German styled pilsner, instead of their Czech Glass Castle Pilsener.  I then learned how the Vespucci Connection received its name and the discovery of how German lager yeast evolved during the general lager renaissance of the early 16th century. 

Brewer’s yeast is generally categorized as “ale yeast” and “lager yeast”. As most people probably know, the scientific name for ale yeast is Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Less commonly known is that the scientific name for lager yeast is Saccharomyces pastorianus. Interestingly, S. pastorianus is a hybrid of S. cerevisiae and an until-recently unknown cold-tolerant yeast–while S. cerevisiae has 2 sets of chromosomes, S. pastorianus has 3 sets. Ale yeast generally prefers a warmer fermentation temperature, and lagers are as clean and crisp as they are because of the colder fermentation temperatures permitted by the contributions of the extra set of chromosomes from the cold-tolerant yeast to the modern lager yeast hybrid. A 2011 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences by Libkind et al determined that the cold-tolerant parent strain of lager yeast is called Saccharomyces eubayanus, and S. eubayanus has only been found in the wild, despite a lot of searching, in Patagonia.  Vespucci Connection, Columbian Exchange: The New-world Origins Of Old-world Lager Yeast

Thus it appears that this wild yeast from Argentina's Patagonia region hopped aboard a ship exploring the continent. Since Americo Vespucci was the first to identify South America as a separate continent, it may have been his ship that brought S. eubayanus to Europe where it eventually merged with S. cerevisiae in a cold Bavarian cave. The Columbia Exchange is the term historians use to describe the flow of plants, animals, technology, and diseases between the two worlds.  One can press it even forward and suggest that the Beer Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot) of 1516 was also a result of this exchange. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Alentejo's Vidigueira Antao Vaz

During the Wines of Portugal tasting that I've previously written about, I spent a considerable time at one booth, sampling several excellent wines from the Alentejo DOC. This region is named for its southerly position from the Tejo river and occupies an area directly east of Lisbon to the Spanish border.  It is sparsely populated, hot and dry, and is best known for the cork industry. Yet, it is also a highly respected wine region with a generally wave-like topography that protects much of the land from the cooling effects of the Atlantic. This contributes to the production of rich, easy-drinking red wines, as ripeness is easy to achieve in these conditions. Thus wineries in Alentejo usually focus on red wine grapes: Aragonez (Tempranillo), Castelao, Trincadeira,  Alicante Bouschet, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Alentejo DOC contains eight subregions, which span from the mountains to the hot, dry center of the region: Portalegre, Borba, Évora, Redondo, Reguengos, Granja-Amareleja, Vidigueira and Moura. During the tasting, I became very impartial to the white grape Antao Vaz, which historically is autochthonous to the Vidigueira region. 

Located in the heart of the Alentejo region, the lands surrounding Vidigueira have the perfect microclimate for the perfect vineyards. Bound in the north by the Serra do Mendro mountain range, which creates a natural frontier between the Upper Alentejo and the Lower Alentejo regions, the average annual rainfall here is higher and temperatures more moderate, despite its southerly location. The schist soil too offers perfect conditions and adds mineral notes to the wine. 

The Antao Vaz grape thrives in Vidigueira's hot and dry climate yet maintains a surprisingly high level of acidity. The berries are loosely clustered and thick-skinned, giving them good disease resistance, and even in drought-like conditions remain productive and evenly ripened. Antao Vaz is also versatile and how the grapes are harvested determines the type of wine produced. If the berries are picked early, they will be used to produce light, citrusy wines with good acidity, but if left on the vine for longer, they will give a rounder, plumper wine that can be barrel-aged.

Quinta do Paral is located in the Vidigueira sub-region and had a few varietal and blended versions of Antão Vaz at the Wines of Portugal tasting. The estate is composed of 102 hectares of mature vines, olive groves, and cork oaks situated around the village of Vidigueira. Some of the grapevines are over 40 years old including Antao Vaz.  The Quinta do Paral Estate Bottled Branco 2018 is a blend of equal parts Antão Vaz, Verdelho, Vermentino & Viognier fermented in stainless steel; and exudes ripe, tropical fruit flavors with citrus and honey overtones. In contrast, the Quinta do Paral Vinhas Velhas Branco 2018 is richer where the 70% Antão Vaz and 30% Perrum are fermented in French oak followed by extended aging on lees. This is an excellent Burgundian-styled wine and made using 50+-year-old grapevines. 

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Assisi DOC Grechetto

Umbria, in central Italy, is a region of lush rolling hills, hilltop villages and iconic, historic towns. The latter are exemplified by Orvieto and Assisi. At the very heart of the Italian Peninsula, it is surrounded by Tuscany, Marche and Lazio. It is in fact the only Italian region without a coastline or international border. -- wine-searcher.com

The Assisi DOC is a sub-region within the larger Umbria wine region that was officially granted in 1997. The vineyards must be planted at a minimum elevation of 180 m (590 ft) up to a maximum of 750 m (2,460 ft). The soils are primarily medium-textured calcareous soils, poor in organic matter, but rich in skeleton and mineral salts derived from the dissolving calcareous rock from Mount Subasio. This provides particular saline components to Assisi wine - even to red wines which are slightly more numerous than white wines. Assisi Rosato must comprise 50–70% Sangiovese; 10–30% Merlot; and a maximum of 40% other authorized red grapes. These OARGs include Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), which along with Merlot, can be labeled as varietal wines (at least 85% of the grape variety).  

White wines are dominated by Trebbiano and Grechetto with the former the dominant grape in Bianco wines and the latter able to be labeled as a varietal wine. Grechetto on its own is either a synonym for  Grechetto di Orvieto or Grechetto di Todi - each genetically unique and each autochthonous grapes from their respective territories.  In Assisi, Grechetto normally refers to Grechetto di Orvieto but there are some situations where both grape varieties are planted close together and vinified together. According to wine-searcher.com, "wines from Grechetto di Orvieto alone tend to be light-bodied and high in acidity. The Grechetto di Todi variety is generally considered superior."

The Tili Vini Family Organic Winery is located on the slopes of Mount Subasio and the family has been growing grapes and olives on the same land since the 13th century.  They were also the leading force in petitioning for the creation of the Assisi DOC in the mid-1990s.  They produce many different Assisi DOC wines but one of our favorites is the Assisi DOC Grechetto. This wine is delicious, full-bodied, stone fruit and pineapple with traces of saline and plenty of vibrant acidity. 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Judging at the World Whiskies Awards

Earlier this month the BevFluence team was invited to participate as judges in the Whisky Magazine Awards America 2022. The awards ceremony, in association with American Whiskey Magazine, will be held on February 8th, 2022 at The Flatiron Room in New York City. The judging occurred on November 11th, 2021 at the whiskey haven Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington DC. During this tasting, 32 judges sampled through 250 American whiskeys divided into 17 categories. The judges reflected a large cross-section of the spirits industry including distillers and distillery owners, writers and educators, as well as other industry professionals. The categories were very specific and consisted of Blended, Blended Limited Release, Small Batch Single Malt, Bourbon, Blended Malt, Rye, Tennessee, Corn, Flavoured Whisky, New Make & Young Spirit, Pot Still, Wheat, Single Malt, Single Barrel Bourbon, Small Batch Bourbon, Single Cask Single Malt, and Grain. We will post the winners two months from now. Cheers.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Wines of Portugal Madeira Part II: Rare Wine Historic Series Rainwater

While attending a recent Wines of Portugal tasting, I was intrigued by The Rare Wine Company's display of Historic Series Madeira - representing styles favored in several American cities. From a historical perspective, Madeira was quite popular from the Colonial era up until the early 20th century. And I learned at this tasting and through these wines, that cities preferred Madeira based on the dominant grape or, in the case of Baltimore, a particular style: Rainwater

This style is paler and more delicate than other Madeira styles. In his book, Madeira, The Island Vineyard by Noel Cossart & Mannie Berk, Noel Cossart asserts that a barrel of Madeira was left on a beach waiting for shipment to the American colonies. The barrel somehow lost its stopper and was watered down by overnight rain and thus, inadvertently creating a slightly more refreshing style. This style became a favorite in Colonial America. Cossart, by the way, was the fourth, and final, member of his family to manage Cossart Gordon & Co, before economic conditions forced him to sell the firm's assets to the Madeira Wine Association.

According to The Rare Wine Company, "In 1902, that city’s greatest Madeira connoisseur, Douglas H. Thomas, called Rainwater the highest standard. And the absence of Rainwaters in a 1900 New York auction prompted one merchant to speculate that Baltimore connoisseurs thought so highly of them that they bought them all up and none reached New York." Unfortunately, in the early 20th century, very sweet and cheap Madeiras entered the market labeled as "Rainwater" which ruined the reputation of the traditional style.  

In 1998, The Rare Wine Company began a project to recreate a series of historic Madeiras with the Baltimore Rainwater based on examples of very rare Rainwater imported into New York City by Robert Benson in the 1820s. Winemaker Ricardo Freitas, of Vinhos Barbeito, "started with a base wine that was 80% Verdelho, made up of two lots ranging in age from 8 to 13 years. Young Verdelho was a perfect starting point, not only because of its delicacy and minimal sweetness but because Verdelho would have been the most common component in the early Rainwaters".  And "for a greater sense of age and also a bit more body, but without increasing the wine’s sweetness, Ricardo added two different lots of old Tinta Negra Mole. Prior to entering the Baltimore Rainwater blend, each of the components was aged (like all of our wines) by the time-honored Canteiro method."

The final Rare Wine Madeira Rainwater Historic Series Baltimore blend range consists of 60-70% Verdelho, 20-25% Sercial, and 10-15% Tinta Negra. For a supposedly lighter style, this wine is very complex with ripe peaches and pears, dried fruits, nuts, and a lively finish.  Excellent. 

Wines of Portugal Madeira Series:
Part I: An Overview

Monday, November 15, 2021

Gazdina Vilijamovka Rakija from Republika Srpska, Bosnia

I purchased this bottle of Gazdinav Rakija Vilijamovka ($34) a while ago and just getting around to opening it. The Williams Pear is forefront with a creamy interior and an ethanol creeping burn. Serving chilled kills the burn with only a little effect on the aroma and flavor.

The producer, Prijedorčanka AD, is the largest fruit processor in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the largest producer of fruit distillate in Europe. Interestingly, they are located in the Republika Srpska -- one of the two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the other being the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The fruit is grown in the Potkozarje region -- also known for its apple and plum orchards.  The fermented fruit is then distilled using column stills and the warehouse can store over 1,700,000 liters. That's a large facility. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Croatian Istrian Teran

In his honor, each November in the small historical town of Momjan, just north of Buje, the Feast of Saint Martin (“Martinje") is celebrated with the ceremonious ritual of baptizing wine. Merry wine-lovers gather in the local vineyards with actors dressed up in the roles of a judge, bishop, godmother and godfather of the wine and praise God with their witty prayers. The wine is then baptized and the first bottle is unlocked with the key to the wine kingdom - a corkscrew. The celebrations are accompanied by an abundance of delicious food and endless supply of wine, lasting until the early hours of the morning. The Aroma of Istria - Feast Day of St. Martin

November 11th (12th in the Eastern Church) is the Feast day 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. In Croatia, Saint Martin is known as the protector of vineyards and winemakers, and Martinje marks the "cheerful traditional folk custom of symbolically translating must into young wine ('baptism of wine')". This celebration is particularly vibrant in the Istrian Peninsula as described in the block text above. Thus it is an appropriate two days to discuss the northernmost of Croatia's wine regions: Istria.

Istria is rapidly developing as one of Croatia's key wine regions.  It is located on the Istrian Peninsula in northwest Croatia (the northern end of the peninsula is part of south-western Slovenia and that county's Istra wine region).  The Peninsula is heart-shaped with the coasts stacked with limestone rock and soils. The interior is hilly with foggy valleys and abundant microclimates - usually iron-rich soils and excessive sunshine moderated by coastal influences. Olive and fig trees compete with the over 4,000 hectares of vines planted in the region. 

The most popular grape planted in Istria is the white Malvazija Istarska, however, Teran is a dominant indigenous red grape. It is a member of the diverse Refosco family: dark-skinned grape varieties native to the Venetian zone and neighboring areas.  Wine from the Teran grape is generally earthy, full-bodied, and robust. And Croatians tend to pair Teran with Istrian smoked meat and game dishes.

Vina Fakin is an Istrian winery located in the medieval town of Motovun -- where once the Celts and later Illyrians built fortresses or "a town in the hills" the Celtic translation of Motovun. The winery grows primarily Malvazija Istarska, Teran, and Muškat on 30 hectares in the surrounding hills encompassing several micro-climates. Winemaker Marko Fakin founded the winery in 2010 using the family vineyards. With that very first vintage, the Teran wine won a Croatian national competition as well as recognizing Marko as Winemaker of Year (Croatian Wine Dream Comes True Without Leaving One’s Homeland).

I recently purchased that wine's successor, the Fakin Teran 2019 ($29) from Croatian Premium Wine Imports in anticipation of Martinje. The wine is delicious -- full-bodied and robust, specifically, fruit-forward dark cherries, then chocolate, and firm yet approachable tannins. Can't wait to visit one day. Cheers. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Wine Concierge: An A++ Curated Wine Experience

During a recent trade tasting of Portuguese wines, I ran into Leslie Frelow, Owner & Chief Discovery Officer (CDO) of  The Wine Concierge. Because of the pandemic, we hadn't seen each other at judging or tasting events that had been canceled. At this tasting, however, where the subject matter was quite pertinent, she related to me the quarterly focus of her The Shades of Vino wine club - Meditteranean wines. This wine club is available through The Wine Concierge community and Leslie kindly sent me a trio of wines from this allotment that highlights wines from Spain, Portugal, and Italy.

Browsing the curated wine selection for Summer/Fall 2021 you immediately notice the intriguing appellations such as Spain's Priorat and Catalonia, Rias Baixas, Basque, Alicante, and Castilla-La Mancha as well as Portugal's Douro and Lisboa DOCs. The collection is rounded out by wines from more familiar regions such as Napa Valley, Williamette Valley Oregon, Mendoza Argentina, Chianti, and Rioja Spain.  

As a wine consumer, it would be difficult on my own to discover a rare white Priorat such as the Les Brugueres Blanc Priorat D.O.Q. ($33) 100%  Garnatxa Blanca or the Vinha Mae Tinto Family Estate Red Lisboa, Portugal ($42) - a blend of Tinto Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Syrah. Yet, Leslie has done the research for you and curated a stellar lineup of wines - many at less than $20 a bottle. Plus take a look at the information provided in the tasting sheets. 

As mentioned earlier, the shipment Leslie sent me consisted of three wines starting with the 2018 Casa Agricola Blanco DO Alicante ($29).  This wine is a blend of 40% Moscatel, 40% Macabeo, and 20% Airén where the grapes were grown in Spain's Alicante DO and produced by Pepe Mendoza at their Casa Agrícola winery.  This is a unique wine, included because of Leslie's expertise, that displays abundant floral and spicy notes,  slight peaches and saline, and finally a fresh spicy finish. Excellent. 

The next wine was an eye-opener, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Tuscany's Tolaini Wine Estate called 2018 LEGIT Tolaini Toscana IGT Cabernet Sauvignon ($42). I never would have purchased a Cabernet from this wine region and instead would have focused on Sangiovese, but this wine is fantastic. Gorgeous fruit, dark cherries and plum, full mouthfeel, structured with chewy tannins. Even better with dark chocolate.  The label is inspired by the "iconic photo of Thelonious Monk from the album cover of one of Monk's most famous live concert recordings, 'Thelonious Monk in Italy' recorded live April 21st, 1961 in Milan by Riverside Records".

Finally, Leslie included the intriguing NV 10 Year White Tawny Porto Douro Valley ($28.75) from Quinta Da Devesa Fortunato Family Estate. From the winery, "this 10 Year Old White Port is obtained from a selection of grape varieties recommended for the Douro region. The aging process occurs naturally over the years, in oak vats at Quinta da Devesa cellars, thus resulting in a darkened color." White Port doesn't receive as much airtime as its red grape sibling but provides sometimes similar but oftentimes a cleaner profile.  This excellent wine starts with dried nuts and figs on the nose, then a textured mouthfeel with honeyed bacon, and an uplifting clean tail. Savor this one.

I look forward to perusing the other wines in The Shades of Vino collection as well as designing Christmas gifts for the family. Please visit The Wine Concierge, join the free community, participate in their Facebook Live events, and support The Black Winemakers Scholarship Fund through every wine purchase. Cheers. 

Friday, October 29, 2021

Wines of Portugal Madeira Part I: An Overview

The roots of Madeira's wine industry dates back to the Age of Exploration when Madeira was a regular port of call for ships traveling to the New World and East Indies. By the 16th century, records indicate that a well-established wine industry on the island was able to supply these ships with wine for the long voyages across the sea. The earliest examples of Madeira, like port, were unfortified and had the habit of spoiling at sea. Following the example of port, a small amount of distilled alcohol made from cane sugar was added to stabilize the wine by boosting the alcohol content. (The modern process of fortification using brandy did not become widespread till the 18th century). The Dutch East India Company became a regular customer, picking up large (112 gal/423 l) casks of wine known as pipes for their voyages to India. The intense heat and constant movement of the ships had a transforming effect on the wine, as discovered by Madeira producers when one shipment returned back to the island after a long trip. It was found that customers preferred the taste of this style of wine, and Madeira labeled as vinho da roda (wines that have made a round trip) became very popular. Madeira producers found that aging the wine on long sea voyages was very costly and began to develop methods on the island to produce the same aged and heated style - typically by storing the wines in special rooms known as estufas where the heat of island sun would age the wine. -- Vintage Madeira

Situated in the North Atlantic, at the same latitude as Casablanca, Madeira is a small island – less than 35 miles (55km) across at its widest point. It is also mountainous and although it benefits from a temperate and markedly Atlantic climate, it can be very humid with instances of tropical heat and high rainfall. The volcanic soils are fertile and rich in organic and acidic matter.  Vines are trained on pergolas and are usually harvested before reaching full maturation which provides wines with very high acidity levels.  

Tinta Negra Mole is the dominant grape variety used in Madeira wine production. Its name means "black soft", and 'perhaps derives from the belief that the variety is a crossing of "black" Grenache and "soft" Pinot Noir'. The grape was brought to the island after the phylloxera epidemic. Verdelho, Sercial, Terrantez (now officially renamed as Folgasao), Bual and Malvasia. The wines were often produced as varietals and labeled with the name of their respective grape variety. The word Malvasia was eventually corrupted to the English word Malmsey, and became a byword for Madeira wines. Terrantez almost became extinct on the island, although it, along with the more prestigious varieties, is now making a gradual comeback. (wine-searcher.com)

Yet, the reasons for the island’s success as a wine region lie not in its terroir and grapes, but in the seafaring tradition described above. Regulations and traditions to emulate the sea voyage are encapsulated in the Madeira DOC.  The Estufagem process of making Madeira wine is used to produce the majority of Madeira wine today. This method involves applying deliberate heat to the wine in order to mimic the oxidation and aging that occurred during these historical sea voyages. An estufa is a stainless steel tank with heated pipes running through it and the wine is heated to 120°F (50°C) for approximately three months. At this point in the Estufagem process, the wine has aged to a similar point five years into the more traditional Canteiro method.

The Canteiro method involves aging the Madeira wine in large barrels placed on trestles (canteiros) that are stored in warehouses heated only by the sun (some producers have even installed large windows to let in as much sunshine as possible). A third method that splits the Estufagem and Canteiro methods consists of aging the barrels for between six and 12 months in an artificially heated warehouse ("armazem de calor").

Madeira wines are produced with various sweetness levels, from seco (dry) and meio seco (medium dry) to meio doce (medium sweet) and doce (sweet). The designations Reserve, Special Reserve, and Extra Reserve denote five, 10, and 15 years of aging respectively, while the Colheita ("harvest") is used to describe a wine from a single vintage. Vintage is the most expensive form of Madeira and must be from a single vintage and aged for more than 20 years prior to commercial release. Rainwater Madeira is a lighter style, popular in the United States and typically made from Tinta Negra Mole. 

Several importers poured a range of Madeira wines at a recent Wines of Portugal tasting.  Two wines that I particularly enjoyed were from Cossart Gordon & Co, established in 1745 and, according to their website, the oldest company in the Madeira wine trade. Under the name Newton, Gordon, Murdoch & Co., the company supplied the ferocious appetites of colonial Americans for Madeira. The Cossart family joined the firm in the early 19th century and with the passing of time slowly changed to the current name. Today the company operates under the umbrella of the Madeira Wine Company along with the popular Blandy's brand. 

After fermentation and fortification, the Cossart Gordon Bual 10 Years Old was aged in American oak casks in the traditional Canteiro system. "Over the years the wine is transferred from the top floors to the middle floors and eventually to the ground floor where it is cooler".  The acidity is still prevalent as it meanders through the complex composition of dried fruits, nuts, spices, and toffee. Wow. 

The Baul grape is also the single variety in the 2005 Cossart Gordon Colheita Baul. This is a single vintage wine that was produced using the Canteiro method described above for nine years in American oak. Interestingly the Baul grape is the same as Malvasia Fina, however, it is distinct from the Malvasia family of grapes used for Malvasia Madeira (Malmsey).  Bual grapes also require more heat to ripen than the other Madeira varieties, so the bulk of Bual vineyards are located in Madeira's warmer locations. This wine shows dense figs and prunes followed by vanilla and toffee then a sweetness offset of the abundant acidity. Excellent. 

Check back often as we cover more styles in detail with Rainwater Madeira in the queue. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Maryland Mead and Cyser from The Buzz Meadery

The Berlin Commons is a community green space located at 21 Jefferson Street in Berlin and on Friday & Saturday nights The Buzz Meadery pours a selection of meads and ciders from their keg dispensing van.  The meadery was founded by Brett and Meghan Hines, both full-time teachers at Indian River High School. Brett is a long-time home brewer of beer and mead specializing in session products with lower abv.  They produce a range of ciders, meads (honey wine), and cysers (mead and apples) sourced directly from Eastern Shore farmers. They particularly support local farmers who use low or no pesticides in order to keep the honeybee populations healthy.

During a Friday night tour of breweries west of Ocean City we stopped at the Berlin Commons for a pint. I chose the Apple Cyser (6.9% abv) a carbonated session mead using honey from Apex Bee Company (Preston, MD) and apples from East View Farms (Frankford, DE). This is a refreshing mead, full of apple flavors with a dry and effervescent finish. Later that night I opened a bottle of their Apple + Pear (6.9% abv), another carbonated session mead using wildflower honey (Preston, MD) and apples and pears from their community orchard.  This mead is a little sweeter with the pear slightly dominating the apple but the acidity and effervescence provide a pleasant balance to the sweetness. 

And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to the Berlin Commons and other Eastern Shore establishments.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Nebbiolo Barbaresco DOCG

Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe-Roero and Monferrato: 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. UNESCO World Heritage list for its cultural landscapes

One of these five wine regions is the Barbaresco DOCG, a classification that was created forty years ago. Barbaresco has a slightly maritime climate which means it enjoys a warmer, drier, and milder than its neighbors. The vineyards are located in the Langhe -- on the right-hand side of the Tanaro river and extending from the area northeast of Alba to the communes of Barbaresco, Neive and Treiso, as well as San Rocco Senodelvio (once part of the Barbaresco municipality but now part of Alba). The dominant variety grown is Nebbiolo, but Dolcetto and Barbera also play a part. The vines are generally grown on limestone-rich marl soils. similar to the Tortonium soils of the Barolo and La Morra areas in Barolo, at 650–1300ft (200–400m) above sea level on very steep, "pre-alpine" hills. They are situated on south-facing slopes for best exposure. (wine-searcher.com)

Nebbiolo is an old cultivar, with historic mentions of the variety going back to the second half of the 13th Century when it was called Nebbiolo di Barbaresco. In Barbaresco, Nebbiolo (little fog) ripens early and contains fewer tannins, and thus is very drinkable at an early age.  However, there is still plenty of acidity and tannins to make this an age-worthy red.  And as the name "little fog" suggests, the grape is resistant to vaper-induced diseases like black rot and downy mildew.

Barbaresco DOCG regulations stipulate that Barbaresco must have a minimum alcohol content of 12.5 percent and undergo two years of aging, one of which must be spent in wooden barrels. For the added designation of riserva, the aging increases to four years, with one of those years in wood. Barbaresco wines are characterized by their rich, spicy flavors and perfumed sweetness and are considered more elegant and refined than their Barola counterpart.

Recently we opened a bottle of one of these elegant and refined wines from winemaker Stella Grasso through MGM Mondo del Vino and available in the United States through importer Mack & Schuhle Inc. The  Riva Leone Barbaresco 2017 ($25) is medium-bodied, with structured cherries, mint, tea, and lasting acidity and tannins.  An exceptional wine. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Terre Siciliane IGT Pinot Grigio

IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) is an Italian classification that was introduced in 1992 in order to allow a certain level of freedom to Italy's winemakers. Prior to 1992, many wines failed to qualify for DOC or DOCG status – not because they were of low quality, but because they were made from grape varieties (or blends) not sanctioned under DOC/G laws. The IGT classification focuses on the region of origin, rather than grape varieties or wine styles. -- Italian Wine Label Information 

Because of its dry, warm climate with regular sunshine and moderate rainfall which reduce the chance of rot and mildew, residents of Siciliy have been producing wine for 4,000 years. Archaeological evidence supports this proposition as amphorae found in Sicily show that the Phoenicians were trading and consuming wine in the IX-IV century BC. The Greek colonization in the VIII-III century BC expanded viticulture by introducing Grecanico and other grapes; while the Romans spread Sicilian wine. Both Greek and Latin literary sources refer to the renowned Sicilian wines. Pliny mentioned the Mamertino from Messina, when Cesare toasted the party for his triumph at the third consulate. In Pompeii, Sicilian wine jars were found, which competed with the local ones from Campania, although they were also appreciated. Remnants of Sicilian wine have also been found in Gaul. (Vine and Wine in the history of Sicily)

Since the Roman era, the strength of Sicilian viticulture oscillated between Muslim, Norman, Spanish, and other conquests to the modern era where the Sicilia IGT was created to encompass the island.  However, in 2011, the Sicilia IGT was upgraded to a newly-created Sicilia DOC and the Terre Siciliane IGT was created as a replacement. The name Terre Siciliane translates to "Sicilian lands" and thus covers the entire island and Terre Siciliane IGT wines can be made any style: red, white, or rosé, still or sparkling, dry or sweet.  

- white, also in the sparkling, sparkling, passito, late harvest, and liqueur types;
- red, also in the sparkling, passito, late harvest, new and fortified types;
- rosé, also in the sparkling, sparkling, passito type.
- with the specification of one of the grape varieties suitable for cultivation in the Sicily Region.
- with the specification of two or three or four vines included among those suitable for cultivation in the Sicily Region.

In the majority of cases, international varieties are used in this classification, but in our example, the white mutation of the Pinot family, Pinot Grigio is the focus. Although this grape is most prevalent in northern Italy it is planted in sufficient quantities in Sicily and when produced as a Terre Siciliane white wine must have a minimum total alcoholic strength by volume of 10.50% vol; a minimum total acidity of 3.50g / l; and a minimum sugar-free extract of 13.0 g / l.

Barone Montalto is located in the province of Trapani in Santa Ninfa and the Belice Valley. They manage approximately 400 hectares of vineyards, some of which are owned and others supervised under the Montalto quality protocol which controls the viticulture methods at each vineyard site. They also operate under the Mack & Schuehle Group and many of their wines are available in the United States through importer Mack & Schuhle Inc. One of these wines is the Barone Montalto Collezione Di Famiglia Terre Siciliane IGT Pinot Grigio 2020 ($12). It is of tremendous value. Expect a pale color, yet deep citrus and literal wet stone on the palate. Gone in a blink of an eye.  

Friday, October 15, 2021

A Virginia Wine Month Visit to The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm

For Columbus Day we decided to visit a Virginia winery particularly since October is Virginia Wine Month and settled on the recently opened The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm. Although, don't let their name detract from the presence of a brewery and cider house onsite. In fact, this Gainesville operation is an adult playground with three types of craft beverages, its plethora of firepits and picnic tables, live music on the weekends, and widespread views of Lake Manassas. Too bad public access is not available for the lake - looks like a wasted fishing opportunity. 

Our visit started with a flight of four wines - all produced using Virginia sourced grapes: 2019 Chardonnay ($33), 2020 Viognier ($34), 2019 Riesling ($33), and 2019 Cabernet Franc ($36). I preferred the chewy Cabernet Franc but was outvoted for a bottle of the very drinkable Viognier.  I didn't object because I also wanted to taste through a flight of beers starting with those brewed at Sunshine Ridge. Some of their beers come from Beltway Brewing, a very respectable contract brewer. My clear favorites from this flight were the Sowing Oats (Spiced Farmhouse Ale, 5.6% ABV, 26 IBU), Double Dog Dare Ya! (Double IPA, 8.0% ABV), and Picnic Porter (Robust Porter, 6.2% ABV, 44 IBU). Not normally an IPA lover, the Double Dog is outstanding - hazy citrus, tropical, earthy, and so smooth.

I have a feeling I will be returning very soon seeing the Scott Kurt is scheduled for several nights starting this weekend to into December.  And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you there.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Republic of Georgia Imereti Otskhanuri Sapere

Imereti is one of ten wine regions distinguished by the Wines of Georgia and it is located in western-central Georgia and situated along the middle and upper reaches of the Rioni River.  It is bordered by the Likha ridge, the Caucasus ridge, the Meskheti mountains, and the Tskhenistskali river, which weaken the moderating influences of the Black Sea. Imereti's climate is mainly humid subtropical with weaker influences from the Black Sea; winters in Imereti are mostly cold and summers are drier and hotter. Since 70% of the region is mountainous, vineyards in Imereti are mainly cultivated in river valleys from 50 to 500 meters above sea level. 

In terms of winemaking and viticulture, Imereti is divided into three zones: Upper, Middle, and Lower Imereti. Both climatic and soil differences occur between these zones, although in general, Imereti contains mostly stony and calcareous soils, with limestone and carbonate rocky soils present on occasion.  Both traditional and modern techniques are used in both areas from the modern training systems of vines to the very traditional training method for Imereti using low poles. In addition, winemaking occurs in both modern stainless steel and in Qvevri --which is called Churi in the Imereti region.  The Churi jugs are buried in the ground where the underground temperature is consistent and the micro-oxidation processes give the wine an amber color. This process also softens the tannins into a velvety structure. 

Imereti is most known for its white wines as the Imereti climate is conducive to producing highly acidic and fresh wines. However, the region's red wine production is increasing, starting with the ancient Otskhanuri Sapere. In fact, this is one of the oldest grape varieties in Georgia with the historic center in the village of Otskhana. Like white grapes, Otskhanuri Sapere is known for its high acidity and gentle body.   On the vine, the grape is a late ripener and generally resistant to many vine diseases. 

One producer is Vartsikhe Marani located in the village of Vartsikhe in Imereti, Georgia. According to the winery, "Vartsikhe Marani owns vineyards in Georgia’s western Imereti region as well as the eastern Kakheti Region. In its western location, the air from the Black Sea to the west and the Caucasus Mountains in the north creates a humid subtropical climate, offering optimal conditions for the cultivation of several rare indigenous grape varieties unique to the region".  They produce 100% natural wines made in Churi using "traditional Georgian methods dating back thousands of years".  

During a recent Wines of Georgia tasting, we were able to sample the 2017 Vartsikhe Marani Otskhanuri Sapere Dry Red Wine that was bottle 343 out of only 950 produced.  The aroma was very herbaceous with dark fruit spreading through the palate that was balanced with layers of structured and creeping tannins. An excellent wine.  The U.S. importer is Terraneo Merchants. Cheers to Georgian wine. 

Friday, October 8, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Portuguese Dão Encruzado

Courtesy of Vinhos Dão Wine

The Dão viticultural region is located in north-central Portugal and takes its name from the Dão river, along which the majority of the region's vineyards are located. It is enclosed by four mountain ranges which act as natural barriers from the coastal rains that originate from the Atlantic and the strong continental winds emanating from Spain. Vineyards are generally planted between 1300 to 1600 feet with higher elevations reaching 2600 feet. According to Wine-Searcher.com, "This elevation raises the vines out of the valley's shadows and towards all-important sunshine, allowing them to maximize their photosynthesis time during the day. It also increases diurnal temperature variation, helping the grapes cool down at night, which they must do to retain the acids so desirable in wine".

In 1908, the Dão became the second (following Porto) formal Portuguese wine region which defined the general conditions for the production and trade of Dão Wine. And more recently the C.V.R. Dão was established in 1987 right after Portugal formally joined the EU. This organization is responsible for "ensuring authenticity and quality by strictly controlling the production and marketing of the wines" and certifies and authenticates wines with Seals of Guarantee. The CVR also created four quality designations listed in the box.

Selected Harvest: With harvest year, with outstanding organoleptic characteristics and with more than 1% of the volume of the legal limit.
Reserve: With harvest year, with outstanding organoleptic characteristics and with more than 0.5% of the volume of the legal limit.
Garrafeira: With harvest year, with outstanding organoleptic characteristics;
> Red wines: 36 months, 12 months in bottle
> White wines: 12 months, 6 months in bottle
Dão Nobre: With the year of harvest, with very outstanding organoleptic characteristics. Only two to date (one white and one red) – Must score 90 points plus

Red wine grapes are the most prevalent in the Dão, but the finest examples of white wine derive from the Encruzado grape says Wines of Portugal US Ambassador Eugenio Jardim. The grape is planted mainly in the granite hills of the region, buds early, and provides a balance between sugars and acids. Wines made from this grape respond well to lees contact and barrel maturation, both of which help to add complexity to the finished wines. According to wine-searcher.com, "oak aging, in particular, helps to tame some of Encruzado's more astringent notes, adding softness and nutty, toasty characters to the finished wines". On the downside, Encruzado has a tendency to oxidize quickly if not carefully handled.

During a recent Wines of Portugal tasting, I was able to sample a 100% Encruzado wine that showed why this grape is so prevalent in the Dão. The 2019 Cabriz DOC Dão Encruzado Reserva ($15) was full-bodied, with creamy citrus and texture, while simultaneously showing saline-driven acidity. 25% of the wine was fermented in new French oak barrels with soft toast and 25% in second-use oak barrels. A delicious wine. 

Cabriz is one of the leading brands from Dão and the world’s best seller from that region - thus allowing it to be accessible through Global Wines Portugal.  The primary 38-hectare estate and winery are located between the two main rivers that cross the Dão region, the Mondego and the Dão. 

Looking forward to visiting someday. Cheers. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Republic of Georgia Racha - Khvanchkara Tsolikouri

“Khvanchkara production” was started by the Georgian Noble Dimitri Kipiani in the 1880s. He made perfect demi-doux (semi-sweet) red wine from Aleksandrouli and Mujuretuli -- unique grape varieties by the incomplete fermentation method. It was called “The Kipiani Wine”. In 1907 Dimitri Kipiani sent his wine to the city of Osten in Belgium, where the European Wine Festival was being held. To everyone’s surprise, The Kipiani Wine was granted the Gold Grand Prize, which is kept at the Georgian National Museum today. This was a great victory for Georgian wine-making and personally, for Prince Kipiani. -- Khvanchkara 

The Republic of Georgia is one of the most ancient winemaking areas and today consists of ten major wine regions. The Racha wine region is located in the middle of this Caucasus country sandwiched between the Imreti wine region to the south and the Greater Caucasus mountains to the north.  This mountain range creates a series of hills and valleys throughout the region with vineyards found on north/south slopes. Within Racha, the Khvanchkara micro-zone is known for its scenic slopes that follow the river valley of the Rioni River. The area ranges from 450 to 750 meters (1500-2500 ft) above sea level and has a humid climate and moderately cold winters proceeded by hot, dry, and sunny summers. Grapevines are planted at low densities with thin canopies to prevent fungal rots as high humidity levels are very common.  And because of the sunshine, the grapes can carry high sugar levels - resulting in historically sweet and semi-sweet wines. 

One of these traditionally sweet and semi-sweet wines was made from the white Tsolikouri grape. In the vineyard, Tsolikouri vines produce a medium-sized bunch of grapes that have relatively thick skins - required for battling mildew diseases. In addition, the grapes provide generous yields that contemporary winemakers are vinifying into drier wines. 

One example of drier Tsolikouri is produced by Didgori Winemaking, an offshoot of Kabistoni Winery owned by viticulturist Gela Kipiani. In 2002 he revitalized several vineyards with a dream of restoring Kipiani Wine in the Racha region.  Today, Giorgi Kipiani operates the winery while carrying on the family name. "He labels the bottles with honor in the Didgori name, which pays tribute to a traditional Georgian singing from the fifteen-person polyphonic folk ensemble, of which he has been a member for 12 years".  Their wine is produced in small batches of 300+ bottles made using one of a dozen available qvevri. Didgori wines are all-natural and free from chemicals, sulfate, or artificial intervention.

During a recent Wines of Georgia tasting, I was able to sample a couple wines from Didgori Winemaking including their Tsolikouri 2019. The wine was produced with 6 months of full skin contact providing a bit of orange funk - but not overwhelmingly oxidized. Instead, it is very fragrant with fresh acidity that lifts the wine throughout the palate. And the finish lingers -- a delicious natural wine. 

Didgori Winemaking wines are available in CA, NY, OR, IL, DC, VA, & TX through Terrell Wines. And thanks to Wines of Georgia for the images and tasting. Cheers.

Friday, October 1, 2021

#SipShenandoah Beer and Wine at Great Valley Farm Brewery & Winery

During our return from the  2021 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, and not hiking to Natural Bridge,  we stopped off at the Great Valley Farm Brewery & Winery to sample some beer and check sports scores.  As a consequence, we discovered a venue with outstanding views of the countryside, a solid portfolio of craft beer, as well as a couple delicious wines we had brought home. 

Owners Nathan and Irma Bailey purchased the land in 2008 with the intention to open a farm brewery which finally occurred in October of 2016.  At the same time, they planted a vineyard that now consists of six acres of various grape varieties including Gruner Veltliner, Vidal Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Lemberger. Wine production started in 2019 and these wines are now available to the public. 

During our stopover, I chose a flight that consisted of a Grisette, Hibiscus Wit, NZ Pale Ale, and Milk Stout. A completely diverse range of beers.  The farmhouse Grisette was funky and was made using New Zealand Motueka hops leftover from the Pale Ale. The Wit was deliciously satisfying for that warm day. The Pale Ale had a solid structure and was made using NZ Nelson Sauvin and Motueka hops. And finally, the Milk Stout was as expected - velvety cream merging with chocolate and coffee.

Still a long way from home, we purchased a couple bottles of their 2019 Gruner Veltliner ($24) and 2019 Shenandoah Red ($30) to open at a later date. For the Gruner that was the next day and didn't last long. It's a very pleasant wine, creamy citrus, some saline, and abundant acids. The Shenandoah Road is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Lemberger that is aged for one year in a mixture of French, American, and Hungarian oak.  This blend is ridiculously good with plenty of fruit, some spice, texture, acidity, and creeping tannins. Well done on this initial effort. 

October is Virginia Wine Month so try to visit as many wineries (and breweries) as possible during these 31 days. The Virginia Wine Marketing Board lists several events and theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to these establishments. Cheers.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Noiret, Cayuga, and Cabernet Franc from Clearview Vineyard

During the Hudson Valley Taste Camp from several years ago, Clearwater Vineyard poured perhaps the best Noiret wine I had ever tasted. This hybrid grape variety was bred at New York's Cornell University with the labrusca Steuben and the undistinguished NY65.0467.08 as its parents. This Noiret was completely free of Steuben's funky and foxy character with deep juicy black fruit flavors and I vowed to someday visit this winery within the Shawangunk Wine Trail

This month I finally was able to visit their Warwick estate after a hike along the nearby Appalachian Trail. The winery's portfolio has increased since its first vintage in 2010 but due to covid, the wine tasting consisted of four of their signature wines. The 2017 Estate Noiret ($20) is just as rich and full-bodied with some mint and a solid tannic structure. The 2019 Dry Riesling ($19) was also solid with a hint of petrol with stone fruit. 

But the two most interesting and preeminent in our opinion were the Estate Cayuga White and Cabernet France. Cayuga was also developed at Cornell by crossing Schuyler and the French hybrid Seyval Blanc. Too often dry versions of this wine are too bland and sweeter versions are too cloying.  The Clearwater Vineyard 2019 Estate Cayuga White ($19)  is dry but full of bright fruit, depth, and refreshing acidity.  Similarly, the 2018 Cabernet Franc ($20) is excellent. The wine is medium-bodied, without a hint of green, but a velvety texture and approachable tannins and balanced acids.  And what a bargain. This wine would be priced over $30-$35 if produced in Virginia. 

I envision more hiking and wine drinking during our return to the Hudson Valley and as always theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to these beverage destinations. Cheers. 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Exploring Virginia Beer at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

After a couple years off we attended the 2021 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival which is one of the liveliest festivals. Held in the Birthplace of Country Music the festival showcases music on venues located on both the Virginia and Tennessee sides of State Street. COVID definitely affected this year's lineup but the organizers were still able to schedule fantastic artists over the three days. The festival targets local and national artists with special attention to Texas musicians. We heard great performances by Yarn, The Steel Wheels, Folk Soul Revival, Big Daddy Love, Town Mountain, and Blackberry Smoke. In addition, John Anderson and Hayes Carll represented Texas and we loved that Carll covered Ray Wylie Hubbard's Drunken Poet's Dream.

We acted like drunken poets at two Bristol breweries located within the festival's parameter. State Street Brewing Company is a relatively new brewery with outside seating accessible to hear the Country Music Mural stage or the continuous music at the Delta Blues BBQ.  The brewery opened a few years ago in the former Hayes Furniture building on the Commonwealth side of State Street and utilizes the 20,000-square-foot building to its fullest. Expect a spacious seating area and a long bar that runs parallel to the brewing equipment. There's enough diversity in their portfolio for all types of tastes - and for morning music we went with the Long Tom Peanut Butter Porter. In the afternoon we transitioned to their Dad Hat Kolsh and Splash Berliner Weiss before ending the evenings with the Cosmos Imperial IPA

We've visited Bristol Station Brews & Taproom a few times and it was great to see the brewery within the festival adjacent to the Piedmont stage.  Folk Soul Revival paired with the Piedmont Pilsner as fans are slightly bitter to their breakup and that matched the beer's profile. The Bristol Helle Raiser fit the Hayes Carll set and would have worked with 49 Winchester if we weren't late. It wasn't the Blue Mountain Steel Wheels ESB but the Bearded Goat Bock hit similar notes as the band's Rain in The Valley. And in the evening, give us the Wil's Lucky Dunkelweisen

 The BRRR will be back in our regular rotation. Look forward to visiting these and other area winery and breweries until then with theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.