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.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Grape Spotlight: More Côtes du Jura Savagnin with Pinot Noir

In a previous post on the Grape Spotlight thread Jura Savagnin & Vin Jaune, I related the Vin Jaune oxidative winemaking practice and the intriguing Jura region and because of the Hopwine program, I'm able to expand further with wines from Domaine Noir Freres.  Jura's is a cool climate with warm, relatively dry summers and cold winters, and the majority of Jura's vines are planted on south-facing slopes -- to absorb as much of the sun's rays. A minority of vineyards are located in the more mountainous areas of eastern Jura, where heights can reach p to 4,500ft (1370m). However, the majority of vines are planted in the slightly lower-lying land in the west which average 1,000ft (305m).

"It should come as no surprise that the key soil types here are Jurassic limestone and marlstone. The Jurassic period was named after Jura because the region's limestone mountains are representative of the geological developments which occurred between 145 million and 200 million years ago. The name of L'Etoile, the village which is home to one of Jura's most distinctive appellations, is said to be derived from the star-shaped marine fossils which characterize its limestone-rich soils (etoile is French for 'star'). Chablis and the upper Loire Valley are built on a similar geological structure". -- wine-searcher

DalGobboM - Own work CC BY-SA 3.0

Although our package didn't include a Vin Jaune, it showcased three of Domaine Noir Freres' most prolific grape varieties.  Limestone = pinot noir and the Côtes du Jura Pinot Noir - 2018 is exceptional. The structure is solid, surrounded by light cherries and decent tannins. Similar to the family's Poligny vineyard being located in the heart of Jura and saturated in limestone and marlstone. Pre-phylloxera, red wine grapes dominated the region, and Jura Pinot Noir may move the ratio closer to older times. 

That being said, Savagnin Blanc is the region's signature grape and it provides a spicy and funky profile to 100% varietal or blended wines. Domaine Noir Freres banishes the grape to 12 to 24 months in oak for the Côtes du Jura Cuvée " Creux d'enfer" - 2018 Savagnin Floral and expect a vibrant floral aroma. The wine has a Roussanne-ish quality with great depth. And the 24-month aged Côtes du Jura Cuvée Tradition - 2018 blended with Chardonnay has similar Roussanne pungent perfume qualities with major spicy and nutty notes. I would love a 750ml of this lady. 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Don't Wait Until Earth Day to Try These Organic Wines from Veramonte Vineyards

Veramonte Vineyards is a Chilean producer that follows organic practices in order to "express the fullest potential of the terroir".  These practices are augmented with in-house compost; row cultivation to minimize erosion; incorporation of animals like sheep to cut grass and act as a natural fertilizer; conservation of biological corridors to ensure a self-regulated ecosystem for healthy vines; pruning and canopy handling that allows for proper ventilation and disease prevention; and undergrowth control that unpacks the soil, generates structure and enhances the life and soil microfauna. 

They follow these organic practices while growing grapes in two of Chile's 16 wine regions -- the  Casablanca and Colchagua valleys. The Casablanca Valley is "known for the marine influence of the Pacific Ocean that cools off its climate, the morning fog that settles into the valley, and the old, granite-clay soils that create a rich tapestry of terroir. All these factors play a part in making this valley one of the main producers of white wine in Chile. The higher, warmer altitudes free from frosts are ideal for red varieties such as Merlot and Syrah, while the lower and cooler areas are favorable for vibrant white wines with a signature minerality that cause Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay to be the most iconic varieties of the Casablanca Valley".

The Colchagua Valley is located in the southern half of the Rapel Valley and the "relatively low altitude of the coastal hills allows the Pacific breeze to mingle with the Andean winds, which cools the valley and prolongs the maturation period of the region. This is advantageous for the preservation of acidity in the grapes and helps to generate red wines with excellent coloring, great freshness, and very good keeping qualities. The large majority of wine produced here is red, with a particular propensity for the production of Carménère, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Although, the newer plantations close to the coast have also proven to be a region with great potential for cool-climate white wines".

Veramonte Organic Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($11.99)
Sourced from the Casablanca Valley this is a great expression of an old-world style Sauvignon Blanc as opposed to more popular lemongrass-dominated styles. This is a delicious wine, subdued citrus, and considerable minerality coexisting with depth and refreshing acidity.

Veramonte Organic Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($11.99)
Sourced from the Colchagua Valley this is another delicious wine that is the antithesis of overly extracted cabs. There is dark red fruit, but the chalky and earthier characters are more prevalent and expect sound structure and noticeable tannins. At this price - an incredible bargain. 

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

Monday, April 12, 2021

Finding Rum in Pittsburgh from Maggie's Farm Rum - Allegheny Distilling

During a recent day trip to Pittsburgh, I used theCompass Craft beverage Finder to target a distillery and discovered one in the historic Strip District, not far from the zoo, which was our primary destination. And I didn't expect this to be a rum distillery but that's all Allegheny Distilling produces under the Maggie's Farm Rum brand.  There are several whiskey distilleries in the City of Bridges so focusing on rum helps differentiate them from the other distillery options.

For all of their rums, founder and distiller Tim Russell sources Louisiana turbinado raw sugarcane that is fermented using Caribbean-derived yeasts. The fermented cane juice is then pot-distilled using 100% copper Spanish-made stills. The white rums rest 3-6 in stainless steel whereas the aged rums spend 2-3 years in neutral rum casks. One rum we purchased, the Sherry Finished Rum ($50 - 43% abv) receives additional time in a sherry cask. Think Oloroso meets rum, lots of nutty nuances.

We also purchased the Maggie's Farm Coffee Liqueur ($30),  a low abv (21%) liqueur that starts with their white rum as a base, the infused with cold-brewed coffee that was locally roasted ground and brewed in-house. Finally, the liqueur receives some house-made vanilla extract and a little dark brown sugar. Just add a little cream for an excellent boost to your day.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Wine Regions: IGP Méditerrannée & Isle Saint Pierre

IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) is a French wine category that superseded Vin de Pays in 2009 and lies between Vin de France and Appellation d'Origine Protegée (AOP) on the wine quality scale.  According to, "the IGP category is intended to benefit both consumers and wine producers. It provides consumers with clarity about a wine's provenance, while producers are empowered to make wine outside the constraints of traditional AOC laws. The most obvious freedoms are the higher permitted yields and a more comprehensive list of approved grape varieties".

The Méditérranée IGP covers wines that are produced over a large swath of territory of southeast France encompassing Provence wine region, the island of Corsica, as well as smaller areas in the Loire and Rhône valleys. Most vineyards can be found in the hills and valleys of the Alpine foothills as the higher altitude provides an excellent ripening situation with plentiful sunlight and cold nights. A large proportion of Méditérranée IGP wines are rosé made in the typical Provençal style -- lightly pressed. 

One of our Hopwine packages was sent by Isle Saint Pierre, an almost hundred-year-old winery that was founded by Pierre Chassaing in 1927 as the southernmost vineyard in the Rhône valley. As the name suggests, the vineyard and winery are located on an island in the Rhône, just 15km away from the river's mouth. Today, Patrick Henry, Marie-Cécile, and their children (third and fourth generations of winegrowers) farm 230-hectares planting a range of grape varieties unhindered by AOP regulations. These include Merlot, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Carménère, Muscat Petits Grains, Arinarnoa, Sauvignon Blanc, Tannat, Vermentino, Colombard, Malbec, Sangiovese, and Soreli. 

Some of these grapes were represented in the Hopwine package,  particularly in the IGP Méditerrannée « Depuis 1927 » Rosé - 2020 which is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Arinarnoa, Petit Verdot, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. I could go with a full 750ml of this wine at any time. The light color is deceptive as the wine provides a creamy sour cherry flavor. 

The IGP Méditerrannée Ripisylve Rosé Tannat - 2020 was just as compelling showing a candied fruit aroma leading to the same creamy but more fruit-forward wine. 

Another complex blend arrived with the IGP Méditerrannée « Depuis 1927 » Blanc - 2020, comprised of Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Rolle, and Muscat. On the first impression, I wrote "bursting of sunshine" - which stayed consistent from nose to tail. 

The final IGP Méditerrannée in the packages was the IGP Méditerrannée « Depuis 1927 » Rouge - 2020, another complex blend of Cabernet Sauvigon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Carménère, Arinarnoa. This last grape, and also found in the rosé, was bred in 1956 by crossing Tannat with Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was my favorite, showing earthy dark cherries, mint, a full mouthfeel, and creeping tannins. Very nice. 

One last note, although not a Méditérranée IGP and subject of this post, but if you are intrigued by creamy lemons look for the Vin de France Soreli - 2019.