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 operation located in Gainesville 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.