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. (

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. (

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, "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, "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.