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. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Dalmatian Plavac Mali

"Plavac Mali is used to craft some of the finest Croatian red wines, especially when it comes from the barren, steep southern slopes of Southern and Central Dalmatia facing the sea, from positions such as Dingac, Postup and Ponikve on Peljesac, Ivan Dolac on Hvar, Murvice on Brac, and Komarna and Konavle on the coastline.  These locales are the home of the most famous labels, wines that are often powerful, alcoholic, full-bodied, and rich. Further inland, Plavac is used to make fruitier, lighter, juicier, everyday wines to be enjoyed with a variety of cuisines." Wines of Croatia

Today, September 21st is International Plavac Mali Day, a celebration created by the Croatian Wine Alliance - a partnership between Anna M. Viducic (Aroma Wine Co) & Mirena Bagur - Win Burke (Croatian Premium Wine Imports).  Thus, it's more than appropriate to highlight Croatia's predominant red grape variety. It is grown throughout Dalmatia with the best-known plantings on the Peljesac Peninsula in the Dingač and Postup appellations. In fact, Dingač became the first protected Croatian wine region in 1961. However, my appreciation of Plavac Mali comes more from the newly created Komarna appellation through the wines available from Croatian Premium Wine Imports and our recent visit to Terra Madre Winery. Komarna wineries planted their Plavac Mali vineyards using best practices from the Peljesac Peninsula particularly planting on the south-southwest slopes.

That being said, there are some differences in wines produced in Komarna and Peljesac. According to Antonija Car, winemaker at Saints Hills Winery, Komarna is a lighter style of wine than Dingač and the cooler area is able to better preserve acidity. In contrast, Dingač is hotter with more quartz in the otherwise similar limestone soil leading to less acidity, more sugars, and thus higher alcohol.  In Peljesac, vines are planted very close together and trained as bush vines to avoid the harsh effects of the Mediterranean sun. 

The name Plavac Mali is derived from the blue color of the berries (plavac) and the size of these berries (mali). An interesting phenomenon is that the berries on any particular cluster ripen at different times as evident from this slide courtesy of Volarević Winery. This forces the winemaker to make a difficult decision during harvest to obtain a sufficient balance between pH and sugars. This pushes harvest back until the end of September to early October. 

The discovery of Plavac Mali's lineage offers another fascinating story thanks to Mike Grgich, the winemaker behind the iconic Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. Here is a short paraphrase but for the full story, we recommend this video of Grgich or our post Grape Spotlight: Croatian Tribidrag (Crljenak Kaštelanski, Pribidrag, Kratošija) aka Zinfandel. When seeing Zinfandel planted in California it reminded him of Plavac Mali vines from his native Croatia. He enlisted help from Dr. Carole Meredith of U.C. Davis who with assistance from Croatian researchers determined that Plavac Mali was related to Zinfandel but not an exact DNA match. Instead, Zinfandel was the same as its parent Crljenak Kaštelanski - with the other parent being the ancient Croatian grape Dobričić.

There are several Dalmatian Plavac Mali wines available in the United States with most providing the characteristic dried figs, raisins, and cocoa aroma followed by cherry flavors, spice, and solid tannins. Komarna grown Plavac Mali wines are available here along with a Dingač and Postup versions made by Miljenko GrgićSaints Hills Winery, and Chateau Mario.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Fire and Roses at Salento's Cantine Cantele

During our August trip to the Salento Peninsula, our hosts organized a tour and tasting at Cantine Cantele, one of the most well-known wineries in Puglia. This was an unintended coincidence based on our post Grape Spotlight: Salice Salentino Negroamaro and review of the Cantele Riserva Salia Salento 2015.

The Cantele family first arrived in the region when Giovanni Battista visited the area and sourced grapes to sell in northern Italy. When his wife Teresa Manara accompanied Giovanni on one of his many trips she fell in love with Lecce and resettled the family in Italy's "Florence of the South". Later, their son Augusto would study winemaking and along with his brother, Domenico and Giovanni would start Cantine Cantele in 1979. Initially, they worked as consultants, and in the 1990s Augusto purchased his first vineyards and began bottling wine with the Cantele family name.  Today the third generation -- two children each from Augusto and Domenico -- have taken over the enterprise's operation and their guiding theme stresses "innovation and tradition are not enemies".  

During our visit, we were lead through a typical tour of their large operation from the pressing area to indoor and outdoor fermenting and aging tanks to their barrel room.  Definitely state-of-the-art equipment. On their pressing area, we learned about their estate harvest techniques where, because of the extreme daytime heat, the harvest begins at 3am. New vines (40%) are picked by machines as they had been planted with enough working space in between with the remaining by hand. 

The grapes are then covered in dry ice and three types of pressure are applied. The first and second presses of each grape are fermented separately whereas the third press is sent to distilleries for grappa or the seeds for grape seed oil. The white wine grape juice is inoculated with vineyard yeast and fermented on their lees. They produce two versions of Chardonnay, one with only four months on lees and pulled for bottling and the second aged one year in barrel. The Negroamaro grapes dedicated to rosé wine are given longer skin contact resulting in a fuller and darker wine. 

After the tour, we proceeded to the Cantele winery and Tasting Laboratory called iSensi. This facility opened seven years ago to showcase their wine and traditional Pugliese cuisine.  There we sampled four wines providing a general overview of their portfolio.

The first wine was their I.G.T. Salento Rohesia Malvasia Bianca where the grapes sourced from Brindisi spent three months on lees in stainless steel. The fragrance was what you would expect from this grape, brilliant floral, followed by sizzling tropical and citrus flavors. Next came the Teresa Manara Chardonnay 2020 named after the family's matriarch. Also an I.G.T. Salento wine, the estate fruit is fermentation using the first crush and is aged in barrique on lees for 8 months. A full-bodied and delicious wine with green apples, pears, and creamy depth without a buttery finish. The Rohesia Negroamar Rosato is also full-bodied from saignée free-run juice aging three months on its lees. Rohesia is an ancient form of the name "Rose" and matches the color and strawberry flavor of the wine.  Fanoi means "Fire" and the Fanoi Negroamaro 2015 ($37) fired us up to lug a bottle home with us. It is produced only during exceptional years, from 60-year-old vines grown in a single vineyard. Expect multiple herbs and spices, a creamy palate, and a lingering approachable finish.  Excellent. 

Fortunately, some of Cantele's portfolio is available in the United States, most definitely through Total Wine.  If you can visit Lecce, great, if not, explore the region through these wines. Cheers. 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Grape Spotlight: DOC Vermentino di Sardegni and the Argiolas Costamolino

Vermentino is a white wine grape grown in various locations, and under various names, around the western Mediterranean -- most notably in northwestern Italy and the neighboring islands of Corsica and Sardinia. Whereas DOCG Vermentino di Gallura covers Vermentino-based wines from an area at the northern end of Sardinia, Vermentino di Sardegna is a regional DOC covering the island in its entirety.  The DOC was created in February 1988 following a period of consistent quality improvements in Sardinian Vermentino wines.

There is a wide variety of soil types throughout the Vermentino di Sardegna DOC with vineyards found on pockets of limestone and marl. The viticultural areas are dominated by peaks and valleys with the topography creating multiple mesoclimates of which where vineyards thrive. A typical Mediterranean climate is evident with mild, wet winters and hot, sunny summers. The whole island of Sardinia has a high number of days with sunshine, especially in the north with over 300 days per year and a majority of vineyards are found in close proximity to the ocean. This allows prevailing breezes to lower temperatures and help retain acidity. (wine-searcher.com). 

Argiolas is a winery founded by Antonio Argiolas founded in the late 1930s and today is operated by his grandchildren, the third generation of the family, who work here. They farm five vineyards in southern Sardegna with the winery located near the town of Sibiola. One of these estates is Vigne Vecchie which covers about 40 hectares in the hills near the town of Selegas. It is located on a calcareous and marly hillside (600-700 feet asl) with a strong presence of limestone -- most suitable for white grape varieties like Vermentino.  This is where the grapes for the Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna DOC ($16) are harvested and after fermentation, aged briefly on lees. This provides a little weight to the bright lemon and grapefruit profile and racy mineral-driven finish.