Thursday, August 4, 2022

Ilok and Croatia's Srijem Vineyards

Ilok is a city and region located in the far eastern end of Croatia - adjacent to the Danube to its North and surrounded by Serbia except for a sliver of Croatian territory to the west. Grape growing started even before the Romans, by the Illyrians, and has survived  millenniums of changing rulers. Viticulture continued throughout the Middle Ages and was reconstituted after the Ottoman occupation by the  Odescalchi dukes, who in the "17th century built unique cellars underneath the Odescalchi castle, planted even more quality varieties, and started bottling wine".

Most of the vines are planted on the southern and southwestern slopes of Fruška Gora - a mountain centered in Serbia that was once an island in the ancient Pannonian sea. The western side of the mountain extends into eastern Croatia - specifically just south of the city. These Ilok vineyards are also known as the Srijem vineyards (from Vukovar-Srijem County) and receive a full day's exposure to the sun, with the hills positioned from 200 to 250 meters and containing porous flagstone soils. Grasevina, Rhine Riesling,  and Traminac (Traminer) are the primary grapes planted. 

During our Spring trip to Slavonia, we participated in a whirlwind half-day tour of five wineries -- showcasing the history and modern approaches to Ilok winemaking. Will need to return for a more relaxed and in-depth visit.

Ilok Cellars (Iločki podrumi)
In 1450, Nikola of Ilok (1) built a 100-meter-long wine cellar underneath his castle, which itself was built on the foundations of the former Roman fortress Cuccium.  Wine production continued under the Ottoman occupation (1526 - 1688) and in 1697, the castle and significant properties around Ilok were granted to the Italian aristocratic Odescalchi family.  They expanded the wine cellar and in 1710, the Odescalchis planted the first Gewürztraminer vines in the area on the unique single vineyard appellation – Principovac. (This is the site of the grand Odescalchi summer residence castle.)  These Traminac grapes became the foundation for the famous 1947 Traminac vintage which was served at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. During the Homeland War, the remaining bottles of this vintage, as well as the existing 8,000 library wines were saved from destruction by an innovative winery employee who build a false wall into the cellar. The wine that was not hidden was stolen and distilled into brandy by the Serbians.  During our visit, we sampled several of the Iok Cellars wines and highly recommend the current vintages of Traminac - particularly the Premium Traminac 2020 (70 Kuna). The wine is dry with the accustomed string floral aroma, and a full-bodied, citrus, and stone fruit profile. 

(1) Nicholas of Ilok was a Ban of Croatia, Slavonia, Dalmatia, and Macsó; Voivode of Transylvania; and titular King of Bosnia from 1471 until his death. A member of the Iločki noble family, he was one of the richest landowners in the Kingdom of Hungary and Croatia and one of its most influential magnates. He served under four kings of Hungary: Albert, Vladislaus I, Ladislaus V, and Matthias I.

Vina Papak

This is the easternmost winery in both Ilok and in the whole of Croatia and is surrounded by Serbia in three directions. Mladen Papak is a first-generation winemaker and resurrected Iločki podrumi as its Director and Oenologist after the Homeland War. He and his brother first planted grapes at Radoško brdo in 2001 and then he converted his childhood home to a winery in 2014. His son Karl has retraced his Father's steps by graduating from the Faculty of Agriculture in Zagreb and will eventually succeed Mladen. 

Radoško brdo is located on the slopes of the Fruška Gora mountain and the vines face southern and southwestern positions -- providing a full day of sunshine. From 2001 to 2010 they planted Grasevina, Rhine Riesling, Traminac, Chardonnay,  Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.

Radosh is a shortened name for the region and the Papak Radosh label is intended to ingrain consumer awareness of Light, Fresh, & Fruity. They also produce Vina Papak classic labels of  Grasevina and Traminac. We only had time for white wines and loved all those presented, Grasevina, Chardonnay,  Rhine Riesling, and Traminac. For me, the 2021 Vina Papak Grasevina and 2021 Radosh Chardonnay stood out.  We were also treated to the 2016 Traminac Icewine, harvested on January 7th, 2017 at 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Simply delicious.

Vinarija Čobanković

The family of Ivan Čobanković has been cultivating grapes for 50 years and making wine for the past 20 years. In 2022 they started with 21 hectares of vineyards but now they are “the biggest small winery in Croatia”. They cultivate or control approximately 200 hectares of vineyards and produce almost 2,000,000 liters of wine (the second largest after Ilok Cellars). Like many of the Srijem wineries, their vines along the slopes of Fruška Gora consist of Graševina, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Frankovka, Cabernet Sauvignon, and uniquely Grüner Silvaner (a descendent of Traminer),  Unfortunately during our rushed and late-night visit we were only able to sample three of these: Graševina, Pinot Gris, and Grüner Silvaner.  The 2022 Pinot Sivi was very unique, aged in barrique and undergoing malolactic fermentation it is heavier and creamier than others in its class. The 2021 Silvanac Zeleni (Grüner Silvaner) is very fresh, with lots of citrus and acidity for a palate cleanser. 

Vinarija Buhač

This is a small family winery that has owned and cultivated vineyards since 1982, opened the winery in 1998, and today cultivates 20 hectares of vineyards -- 16 hectares of white varieties and 4 hectares of red varieties. These grapes consist of Graševina, Rhine Riesling, Traminac, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. We were invited into their quaint tasting area for a late-night serving of wine, cheese, and kobasica. We started with the 2021 Graševina which showed green apple, white flowers, citrus, and that pleasant bitterness that we've come to expect from this wine.  The Buhač Sauvignon 2021 provided an opportunity to contrast the international variety in different regions and this provides more melons over lemongrass with distinct herbaceous qualities. The Buhač Rosé 2021 is on the fruitier side with plenty of acidity to pair alongside the strawberry and raspberry flavors.  The most interesting wine we sampled was the single vineyard Buhač Merlot Liska 2019. The wine is very drinkable now, with black fruits mingling with subtle vanilla and spices. 

TRS Winery

This winery is built upon the remains of the region's first wine association, First the Sriem Vineyard Joint Stock Company, formed on January 30, 1872. The association only lasted 20-25 years --  deteriorating due to the phylloxera epidemic. But its legacy is an old 834 squared meter wine cellar built around 1885 which the owners of TRS plan to refurbish.  These owners are the Bosnjak and Feletar families who merged their respective family farms and winemaking equipment into the TRS Agricultural Cooperative. The TRS Winery opened a year later where they had a production capacity of 80,000 liters while cultivating 29 hectares of vines.  Seeking to expand further, the cooperative added Ilija Tokic as an investor and strategic partner and moved to the remains of the First the Sriem Vineyard Joint Stock Company.

TRS vineyards on the slopes of Fruška Gora – Vinogorja Srijem are at an altitude of 200 to 260 meters, which includes the areas: Dekan, Veliko Brdo, Principal, Vukovo, Radjevac, and Radoš. And like Vina Papak the vines are Graševina, Chardonnay, Rhine Riesling, Traminac, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc -- with additional plots of Frankovka (Blaufrankish).

During our visit, we saw firsthand how the winery has an extremely diverse portfolio, both in terms of the grape varieties vinified but also in the different styles for the same variety.  We sampled lots of wine, from Graševina in the tank to aged Graševina in the bottle. Their 2015 Graševina highlights the age-ability of that variety where some of the acidity is displaced for a fuller body. The fresher side of most of their current Graševina shows a range of fruit flavors from lemon to apple with a slightly bitter finish. Their Rhine Riesling and Traminac are solid with a Late Harvest 2017 Traminac, excellent. TRS produces more red wines than its neighbors and we sampled the very respectable 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2017 Cabernet Franc. But the highlight was the delicious and completely unique 2018 3 C's. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Carmenere, with the latter perhaps the only time vinified in Croatia. The winery purchased and planted what they thought was Frankovka. Five years later they determined that the vines were, in fact, Carmenere, and the 3 C's was born. This is a luscious wine, with black fruit, some spices, chocolate, and earthiness.  

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Grape Spotlight: DO Calatayud Garnacha through Bodegas Raíces Ibéricas

"Hola, My name is Rubén, Carlos Rubén, winemaker in Spain and my favourite grape is the Garnacha. I love all the facets of this unique grape variety, which exists in white, grey, and red. It offers plenty of options, which is exactly the feature that my good friend Mark, the high-spirited founder of Master Winemakers, used to challenge me. To follow the Garnacha trail across Spain and make beautiful wines, originating from a wide range of terroirs. Mark has dubbed me La Voz de la Garnacha, and it is quite a challenge to live up to such a title, but I immediately felt like giving it my best shot."  Bodegas Raíces Ibéricas

"The red wine of the Garnacha variety represents the essence of Calatayud wines". -- D.O.P. Calatayud  

These are the sentiments of two experts regarding Garnacha and the DO Calatayud (created 1990) wine region, an arid area of rolling hills within the autonomous community of Aragon in northeast Spain. Romans introduced viticulture to the region, and despite periods of neglect and boom (Moorish conquest and Christian re-conquest), grape growing has continued to this day. Calatayud's climate is continental with cold winters but extremely hot and dry summers that are somewhat mitigated by the elevation of Calatayud's vineyards. These vines are planted on the south-facing slopes of the Sierra de la Virgen mountain range where altitudes can reach 3,280 ft (1,000m). This altitude helps create a better balance between residual sugar and high potential alcohol in a grape's development. 

Vineyards are planted on loose, rocky soils of granite, slate, clay, or loam (limestone and clay) with each providing good drainage. In general, the grapes grown on soils of slate and granite are known for generating wine with greater minerality and spicey aroma; whereas grapes grown on more clayish and loam soil produce a wine with greater fruitiness. Yields are typically very low because of the harsh conditions, further adding to the quality of the wines.

Calatayud is known for its big and bold red wines with Garnacha representing more than three-quarters of vineyard plantings. The local Consejo Regulador sets quality criteria according to the age of the Garnacha vines, with those more than 50 years old given the classification Calatayud Superior. Garnacha also thrives in the highest and steepest elevations where mechanical harvesting is nearly impossible and most of the cultivation work is done by hand.  

During a Spanish Wine Roadshow held in Washington D.C., I was introduced to one Calatayud producer, Bodegas Raíces Ibéricas. Like several of the wineries in Calatayud, this is a new, organic winery producing wine in an old cooperative in the town of Maluenda. Although the source 19 different Spanish grape varieties, winemaker Carlos Rubén and owner Mark Schiettekat recognize the predominance of Garnacha.  This Las Pizarras Vina Alarba Garnacha is made from grapes located between 2,750 and 3,250 feet above sea level and planted in slate-dominated soils. The Alarba region also hosts many old vines, some more than 60 years old.  This is an intense wine, with lively aromas, a full-bodied and spicy core, followed by noticeable chewy tannins and lasting freshness. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Limari Valley Sauvignon Blanc via Viña Tabalí

The Limarí Valley is one of the northernmost wine-growing regions in Chile, located 200 miles (320km) north of the capital, Santiago. Technically, Limarí (Lee-ma-RE) is not a valley, but a high plateau (“altaplana” in Spanish). It is also closer to the equator and thus hot and dry but contains areas suitable for viticulture thanks to its close proximity to the Pacific (seven miles) and to the gap in the coastal hills created by the Limarí River. On either side of this gap, the coastal ranges rise to almost 2300ft (700m), preventing cooling Pacific breezes from reaching inland areas. 

In the morning, the coastal "Camanchaca" fog creeps through the gap and up into the valley. The fog refreshes the local vineyards with cool, moist air, and once it dissipates it is replaced by cooling breezes from the cold Humboldt Current (See Grape Spotlight: Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc about the cooling effects of the Humboldt Current). Once the sun has risen above the Andes  the warm, dry, desert-like conditions are re-established.  And in the afternoon, "the wind coming from the Andes can be so strong that some producers plant their rows east-west so that the vines don’t take the brunt of the powerful wind head-on".  

The soils in the Limari Valley are quite unique for Chile as they consist of limestone from an ancient seabed that was raised by tectonic activity into the Andes Mountains. The limestone was then gradually washed downstream by glaciers and rivers to the plains and valleys below. A great source of calcium carbonate.

Viña Tabalí was founded in 2002 by Guillermo Luksic and was the first modern winery built in the Limarí Valley. However, his foray into Limari started a decade before when he purchased the Tabalí vineyard because "I want to have land in Ovalle because it’s a fascinating area with its climate and temperature and it’s also very pretty". In 2009 the winery acquired the Talinay Vineyard located next to the Fray Jorge National Park and which forms part of the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. It is located only 12km from the coast and is the source for the Viña Tabalí Talinay Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($24).  According to the winery,

This is a very unusual landscape, as it is completely unpopulated. It adjoins the Fray Jorge National Park and forms part of the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. The proximity to the sea and the entry of sea breezes make this a cool area for producing wines. It is very cloudy in the mornings and the camanchaca sea fog effect kicks in in the afternoons. The dense fog settles in the high parts of the Altos de Talinay hills and gives life to the forest of Fray Jorge. This mist produces average annual precipitation of 1,000 mm on the western face of the hills. This is a very windy area and the sea breezes cross through the clouds, lowering the temperature even further and making this the coolest vineyard in the whole 4th Region of Chile. The wind also carries evaporated components from the sea to the vineyards. This is an oasis in the desert, which receives 80mm of rain a year and is sparsely vegetated with cacti, small bushes and gentle slopes. The landscape shows the Coastal mountain range to the west and a small chain of hills to the east, making this place a small hidden valley. To the south, the vineyard borders the River Limarí. It is the last water right holder of the valley, that is the one nearest to the ocean (12km).

The wine was cold fermented in stainless steel and is completely saline driven from head to toe. White flowers and lime notes accompany the minerality in the nose whereas the saline shares the palate with just a touch of citrus. A fresh finale. 

Monday, July 18, 2022

Grape Spotlight: DO Getariako Txakolina Hondarrabi Zuri from Blai Txakolina

Welcome to the Basque language. DO Getariako Txakolina is the appellation, Hondarrabi Zuri a white wine grape, and Blai Txakolina a winery. 

Founded in 1989, and extended in 2007, Getariako Txakolina is a DO wine zone within Pais Vasco (the Basque Country) in northern Spain. There are three recognized areas for Txakoli (pronounced chac-o-lee and translated to 'wine made from a village' or 'wine village'). The other two areas are Arabako Txakolina and Bizkaiko Txakolina. 

The vines are grown bordering the Atlantic coast to the north and France and the Pyrenees 30 kilometers to the east. These vineyard sites are greatly affected by their proximity to the Atlantic Ocean where the cold influences are felt in all three areas. However, in Getariako Txakolina, the cold influences are moderated by warmer coastal hills. And, as opposed to the other two Txakoli areas, Getariako Txakolina receives a high level of rainfall – an average of 63 inches a year. Here most vineyards are located on the gentle southeast-facing slopes and foothills of the Pyrenees where the soil is chalky containing rich, organic material. 

There is documented evidence of viticulture in the Txakoli regions dating to 1397 -- but the undocumented evidence extends much further. By the end of the 19th century, the size and number of Txakoli vineyards had shrunk due to the gradual repealing of protectionist laws, the competition from foreign wines, and the outbreak of successive blights and diseases (phylloxera and mildew). By the early 1980s, there were only 21 hectares of vines planted. This number increased slowly when word of a possible Denomination of Origin was revealed and intensified after the DO was created -- in 2021 there were 36 wineries and 443 hectares of vineyards.

The Hondarrabi Zuri grape accounts for nearly 95% of total plantings in Getariako Txakolina and is named for a town in the region named Hondarribia. The word "Zuri" means white in the Basque language.  This grape excels in the colder conditions near the Atlantic and creates light, citrus, and white fruit wines with noticeable herbal and saline notes. 

Blai Txakolina is a producer we met at a recent Wines of Spain tasting in Washington D.C. They source from many wine growers in the area which allows them to utilize different vineyards that offer the grapes and conditions appropriate to their production style. Coastal grapes offer freshness and these are blended with more intense inland Gipuzkoa grapes. They utilize Oñati vineyards with their gentle slopes facing south as well as vineyards where the slopes descend towards the sea in the heart of Getaria. 

Here are several of the Hondarrabi Zuri wines we tasted and hope to visit during a Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. 

Blai Blanco Txakoli de Getaria
"Made with grapes from coastal Getaria vineyards 80% and inland Oñati vineyards 20%, both 100% Hondarrabi Zuri with an early ripening point to accentuate its freshness. Worked under strict temperature control, it is aged on its lees for 3 months before proceeding to cleaning and bottling." Expect citrus, saline, and fresh acidity. 

Blai Rosado Txakoli de Getaria
"Made with grapes from coastal Getaria vineyards, 30% Hondarrabi Zuri and 70% Hondarrabi Beltza with an early ripening point to accentuate its freshness and achieve a slight pink color during pressing. Worked under strict temperature control, it is aged on its lees for 3 months before proceeding to cleaning and bottling."
Herbaceous strawberries are followed by astringent and effervescent acidity. 

Blai Itsas-aparra Espumoso Txakoli de Getaria
"Made with grapes from inland Oñati vineyards 100% Hondarrabi Zuri with an early ripening point to accentuate its freshness. Worked like the white Blai txakolina, fermentation is stopped at the right time so that the residual sugar is what is later referred to in the bottle during the traditional foaming process. It is in rhyme, during the maturation process in the bottle, until the sensory and physical-chemical analyzes are adequate for its disgorgement and, subsequent and definitive corking." 
Think sparkling Blai Blanco

Blai Orange Txakoli de Getaria
An earthier version of  Hondarrabi Zuri

Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Virginia Cider Trail Coincides with the BevFluence Cider: New Perspectives on Cider, Perry, and Brandy Campaign

This is a big month for Virginia Cider. Last week the American Cider Association (ACA) announced the launch of the Virginia Cider Trail where users of the app can win prizes and receive discounts at participating cider houses. And it just happened that this summer I have already visited four of these establishments. And I believe I was the first to officially check-in using the Virginia Cider Trail app at Sage Bird Ciderworks and Ciders from Mars. 

In addition, our partner site at BevFluence has opened brand registration today for their Cider: New Perspectives on Cider, Perry, and Brandy campaign. The cider, perry, and brandy products will be presented to a combination of industry experts, mixologists, bartenders, creators, bloggers, writers, and other media – and across the craft beverage landscape. This will generate new perspectives about cider, perry, and apple brandy from creators who range from cider novices to experts. I also plan on taking the ACA's Certified Cider Professional (CCP) exam during this campaign and using the ciders with my training guide. Brands and content creators can register here for the BevFluence campaign or learn more about the CCP here.

Lost Boy Cider is an urban cidery in Alexandria and sources its fruit from various orchards in the Shenandoah Valley. In early June they hosted one of four sessions on the Virginia Cider Road Show presented by the ACA. After a brief overview of Lost Boy by cidermaker Dave, the ACA's Jennie Dorsey provided a history of cider, a history of cider in North America, and then the history of cider in Virginia. She then provided a brief overview of Virginia's three most important apple varieties: Newton (Albemarle) Pippin, Hewes VA Crab, and Harrison. She finished by discussing the ACA's Apple classes (bittersweet, bittersharp, sweet, & sharp); ACA Cider Families (cider, perry, fruit cider, botanical cider, & dessert ciders); cider cocktails; and cider-food pairings. Yes, a boatload of information was packed within each session. We finished with a food and cider pairing featuring cheeses from Cheestique. I think the Barrel-Aged cider paired with the Appalachian cheese, dried pear, and balsamic vinegar was my favorite -- very complimentary.

Castle Hill Cider is located east of Charlottesville in Keswick and has an interesting history regarding the propagation of cider apples. As stated on their website:

Colonel Thomas Walker, the original owner of Castle Hill Estate, was the first to bring Newtown Pippin apple scions to Central Virginia following his return from the Battle of Brandywine in 1777.  The variety was planted at Castle Hill and became known as the Albemarle Pippin apple.

And as most Virginia cider lovers know, the Albemarle Pippin is still one of the signature Virginia apple varieties and was even exported to England throughout the 1800s.  Castle Hill Cider was founded in 2020 and the estate is planted with 6,500 trees featuring more than 30 apple varieties including Albemarle Pippin, Black Twig, Harrison, Burford Red Fresh, GoldRush, Dabinett, Hewes Crab, and Wickson Crab. The ciders are bottled in either 750ml or 375ml bottles and range from sweet to dry. 

During our visit, we choose a Classic flight and a Barrel aged flight. The majority of the group preferred the Terrestrial 2020 where the tannins and slight RS are balanced. It's also an interesting blend that includes Black Twig, Winesap, and Ashmead's Kernel. Personally, I preferred the funky, dry, and naturally fermented in quevri Levity 2020. Is this the only American cider fermented and aged in Georgian quevri?

For the barrel-aged ciders, the Hewes Pommeau Reserve is fascinating with complexity created by four years of aging in Woodford Reserve barrels and Keswick Winery wine puncheons. I also enjoyed the Silver Bough where Dabinett and Golden Hornet ciders were aged over a year in rum barrels.

Sage Bird Ciderworks is located in downtown Harrisonburg and opened a couple years ago after the persistently hard work of Zach and Amberlee Carlson. This is the first cidery in the home of the Dukes and they offer an excellent array of various styles. I settled on a flight of five ciders - slightly more than the paddle size. The clear favorite was the Dry River Reserve -- their flagship brut cider made from a blend of Virginia-grown apples. The Peaches For Me fits perfectly into the upcoming BevFluence campaign since the cider was aged in used apple brandy barrels. The oak treatment is noticeable -- providing a peaches and cream feel with a boost of apple flavors. Finally, an interesting geographic cider is their Stay Gold, a dry cider inspired by West Virginia's official state fruit, the famed Golden Delicious apple. 

Ciders from Mars is located about 30 miles south in downtown Stanton across the street from both Ox Eye Vineyards and Redbeard Brewing Company. So no excuses for not visiting. The cidery was founded by Virginia natives and science-minded Nikki West and Jeremy Wimpey. And Nikki improved her cidermaking through courses at the Cider Institute of North America -> a partner of the American Cider Association. Over a burger from 1Tribe Farm, I sampled six ciders through a standard flight. The Helles Dry is a solid representation of a brut cider and on the other side of the spectrum, the Pink Oceans was interesting with a subtle strawberry profile. However, the most impressive cider was easily the Liquid Gang, made from foraged apples and fermented using native yeast. The tannic structure mimics biting into an apple. Could be my favorite cider made in Virginia and is on par with the excellent cider from New York's Aaron Burr Cidery.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Brandy, Gin and More from Croatia's First Craft Distillery: Brigljević Distillery

On my first day in Zagreb, at the Pink Day Festival, I discovered artisanal Croatian gin through Iguana Gin and quickly learned it was a  rising phenomenon in Hrvatska. Little did I know that ten days later I would be introduced to the man and distillery who started this trend. 

Knowing that I was completely free during my last full day in Croatia, the Zagreb County Tourist Board arranged a visit to the small city of Velika Gorica and the larger Turopolye region just south of Zagreb. This region has a vibrant history and in 1225 the inhabitants of Turopolje were recognized as free noblemen by King Bela IV and were exempted from serving the Town of Zagreb. And on January 7th, 1737 King Karlo III gave the noble municipality of Turopolje the official stamp to create a coat of arms. The coat of arms of all the noble families, wooden architecture, and more local culture and history is on display at the Turopolje Museum.

Fortunately, my prudent and knowledgeable tour guide had more plans for me and had scheduled a visit to the area's only distillery:  Brigljević Distillery.  The craft distillery was founded in 2002 by Miljenko Brigljević and today is one of the oldest distilleries in Croatia. And in 2015, Brigljević decided to create a handcrafted gin which he called Flying Cat Gin. The recipe was based on London Dry Gin and featured juniper berries, fennel seeds, almonds, cinnamon, lemon peel, ginger, mint, and clove. In addition, the family has long ties to Turopolje where the Brigljević family was awarded the noble title in 1524. This family coat of arms is proudly displayed on the labels of the Brigljević liqueurs. 

I was met by Miljenko, his wife, and their daughter Gabriela -- who plans to succeed her father. The focus of this visit was not gin or liqueurs, but brandy -- and all distilled using the family's carport-ready copper pot still.  Miljenko emphasized throughout the tasting that focusing on the spirit's aromatics is the central guide to his craft. Today he and Gabriela also train their palates through regular meetings of a Zagreb whiskey club, but in the past Croatians had little concept or tradition of aged spirits. In general, Croatian Rakija is served fresh and if aged, usually in the bottle or small glass wine fermenters. In order to create a truly world-class aged spirit, Miljenko had to experiment with various oak casks to determine which worked best not only with an individual spirit but also with the local climate (mostly temperatures) as a whole. And they are still experimenting.

Barrelina Apple Brandy First Cask (50%)
This brandy is doubled distilled from local apple cider made from four apple varieties, including Pink Lady and Granny Smith, and aged 18 months in American oak barrels. Distilled in 2017 and bottled in 2020. Very harmonious between the apple aroma and flavors combined with the oak-driven vanilla and honey.. 

Barrelina Apple Brandy Teatro Vaniglia (55.1%)
This brandy is doubled distilled from local apple cider and aged for 24 months in barrique barrels made from American oak by an Italian cooperage. Distilled in 2018 and bottled in 2021. This brandy sizzles with apple aromas and flavors with notes of vanilla throughout. Very smooth at cask strength. 

Barrelina Pear Brandy Quarter Cask  (50%)
The double-distilled perry is aged four years in American oak quarter casks. Distilled in 2018 and bottled in 2022. This is a lengthy brandy with vibrant fruit and slight spices. 

Dark Forest 8-Year Pomace Brandy (44.1%)
This grape brandy was made by double-distilling four varieties of grapes grown in Baranja, Slavonia. The brandy was first aged for two years in a Slavonian oak barrel and then six years in a Bordeaux wine barrel. Distilled in 2013 and bottled in 2021. Expect complexity. Baked raisins and fig on the nose and then earthiness, raisins, honey, and more throughout the long finish. 

I also tasted several upcoming attractions of malt whisky and brandies aged in unique barrel sources such as Laphroaig and Chateau Lafite Rothschild. Innovation and experimentation are continual processes at  Brigljević Distillery.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc

The Humboldt Current carries cold water from the South Pacific to the equator -- all along the South American continent. It is both wide and long and creates cold weather conditions as it flows north. This leads to the formation of fog along the coastal regions of Peru, Chile, and Ecuador; and this cold air is carried into the interior by coastal breezes. As a result, it helps create conditions for cold climate grapes in coastal wine regions such as Chile's Casablanca Valley.  

The east-west-oriented valley is roughly 30km (20 miles) long and separated from the Pacific Ocean by the Coastal Mountain Range.  This tempers the cooling effects of the ocean influences, but in the evening, the winds shift and air from the Andes continues to cool the valley. With a longer ripening period, the white grapes have more time to develop greater flavor complexity, while maintaining sugars and acids in balance. Thus the Casablanca Valley is well suited for both Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. These vines are planted either along the eastern slope of the range or on the valley floor where the soils are rich in maicillo (coarse-grained particles of sand and gravel), clay, or granite bedrock.  

Viña Morandé's Belén vineyard is located only fourteen miles from the sea and contains granite-rich soils with varying amounts of clay depending on height and location.  The vineyard receives a mixture of cold and warm air with the morning mist lowering temperatures to allow Sauvignon Blanc to ripen slowly and obtain different profiles. For the Viña Morandé Gran Reserva D.O. Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2020, the wine is partially aged on its lees providing noticeable weight on the finished wine.  It also offers a slightly herbaceous and lemon aroma, followed by racy minerality and citrus flavors, and finishing with excellent acidity. 

Matetic Vineyards is located in the Rosario Valley and is even closer to the Pacific Ocean, only six miles away, and thus receives some of the coolest temperatures in Casablanca. They farm biodynamically in the granite-rich soils of the Valle Hermoso vineyard and the Matetic Vineyards EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc 2020 is a blend of multiple fermented grape musts. The majority was fermented in stainless steel tanks where the wine then remained for four months sur lees.  Around 30% of the grape must was fermented in concrete 700-liter egg-shaped vessels and another 30% was fermented in neutral oak barrels. This technique enhanced the mouthfeel and texture while still allowing the natural fruit and minerality to shine through. The wine shows both citrus and tropical notes with a similar herbaceousness as the Viña Morandé. Racy minerality as well. 

Casas del Bosque farms the La Cantera vineyard planted on the slopes of the Cordillera de la Costa mountain range -- 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean. La Cantera is named after an old granite quarry and is planted in the reddish soils rich in the granite rock, which also contains some iron and clay.  Like at Matetic Vineyards, the climate is the coolest in Casablanca allowing the grapes in the Casas del Bosque La Cantera Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Las Dichas, Casablanca to develop slowly.  The free-run juice is then fermented and rests on its lees for a couple months. This results in a delicious wine, mostly grapefruit and tropical with a touch of herbaceousness and a little less minerality. 

Friday, July 1, 2022

RTD Cocktails Profile: Post Meridiem

We've learned from the highly successful Rendezvous: An In-depth Look at RTD Cocktails campaign that RTDs come in flavors, percent alcohol, and size. One brand that has stood out despite its diminutive size is Post Meridiem Spirits, a producer from Atlanta, Georgia. Their RTDs are intended to directly correlate to a craft cocktail so each can is 100ml in size and equates to a standard cocktail pour. In addition, these rugged - yet artistic cans - are encased in a steel wall, encouraging their portability for hikes, picnics, beach visits, and foreign travel. Post Meridiem also provides transparency regarding the ingredients - proudly displaying the cocktail recipe directly underneath the cocktail name. And finally, these are not low alcohol crushable RTDs, these are true cocktails with the alcohol content reflecting what would normally be expected in the targeted recipe.

Our influencers received a combination of four cocktails: The Modern Classic Cosmopolitan, The Double Old Fashioned, The Real Lime Juice Margarita, and The London Dry Southside. Their favorites varied but all appreciated the portability, transparency, and quality of each cocktail recipe. Here are some of the Instagram posts from the participants.

Princess Nohelani
Let Her Drink Wine

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Alentejo's Portalegre DOC and Arinto

Located along the Spanish border, the Portalegre DOC is Alentejo's northernmost subregion and is completely different from the rest of the Alentejo -- from the altitude to the soils, from the vineyard sizes to the age of the vines. The vineyards are located at the foothills of the Serra de São Mamede mountain range, between 600 and 700 meters above sea level. Thus the climate is cooler and wetter than the baking plains of southern Alentejo. And it receives influences from both the Atlantic and Mediterranean. The soils are primarily granite and interspersed with small patches of schist in the lower areas. Vineyards tend to be fragmented in the hills, divided into numerous small plots of very old vines -- many of which may be seventy years old.  In general, these conditions help produce fresh and elegant wines, yet equally powerful.

Arinto is a late-ripening, medium-sized yellowish grape that's naturally high acid content makes it well suited for the hot Alentejo environment. And the tightly packed bunches are shaded from the hot sun by the vine's large leaves. The grape provides a range of profiles from grapefruit to lemon and lime and green apple to some stone fruits. 

The Adegas de Portalegre Winery was founded in 1954 by a small group of winegrowers and is actually located in a Natural Park -- the Natural Park of Serra de São Mamede. This means the vines are planted at high altitudes, between 600 and 700 meters, and the average age of these vineyards are 70 years old. We received a sample of their Conventual Reserva Vinho Bianco 2018 which is a unique blend of Arinto, Fernão Pires, Syrah, and Bical. The Syrah grapes were harvested from the Serra da Penha vineyard -- an eight-hectare granite soil plot that starts at 450m and runs to the top of Serra da Penha at 650 meters. The other grapes were grown in the Quinta da Cabaça vineyard, an even higher plot with clay and granite soils. The wine is very complex starting with a white flower aroma, then moving towards a saline and white peach profile, and ending with excellent acidity. The 14% alcohol is unnoticeable. 

The Herdade da Torre de Palma is located in Monforte, Portalegre, and farms seven hectares in their estate vineyard, which interestingly enough, is planted with seven different grape varieties. The vineyard consists of light clay soil on top of the granite with smaller instances of limestone, schist, sandstone, and marble. The vineyard receives wide diurnal temperature swings which extend the maturation period - leading to increased acidity. The wines are created by enologist Duarte de Deus who tends towards a minimalist approach. That being said, the Torre de Palma Arinto - Alvarinho 2021 was fermented and aged on its lees in French oak. There is definitely a sense of depth in this wine with a strong citrus profile, complemented by a touch of tropical notes and minerality. 

Friday, June 24, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Abruzzo DOC Pecorino

“…one morning in September, before the harvest, I and others went to Arquata del Tronto, in the hamlet of Pescara, where they had pointed out to me an ancient vineyard cultivated with Pecorino. Arrived on the site I was indicated by the owner of the land Mr. Cafini some shoots that were evidently two, or three, generations old. In the following February I went back to pick up the shoots and took them to my company in Ripatransone, where I made the first grafts: my idea was to cultivate it in purity. I know, it was a crazy idea, everyone said it, my friends always repeated it to me in the winter evenings in front of the fire, but I wanted that wine, I knew it was possible, and I never doubted” -- quote from Guido Cocci Grifoni in The Rebirth of Pecorino

Abruzzo is a naturalist's dream "as half of the region's territory is protected through national parks and nature reserves, more than any administrative region on the continent, leading it to be dubbed 'the greenest region in Europe'".  That could be why it has been occupied since the "Neolithic era, with the earliest artifacts dating to beyond 6,500 BC. In the 6th century BC, the Etruscans introduced viticulture into the area which continued with the Romans -- who contributed to much of Abruzzo’s recognizable history.  Even after the fall of Rome, the Lombards, Byzantines, Magyars, and Normans successively imparted some type of influence in Abruzzo.   Throughout these periods, viticulture has been a constant with multi-generation small plots, sometimes less than a few hectares, being passed down through successive generations. 

Abruzzo is located directly east of Rome and bordered by the Molise wine region to the south, the Marche to the north, the Lazio to the west, and the Adriatic to its east.  It is further divided into several sub-regions: Controguerra, Teramo, Chieti, Pescara, and L’Aquila (L’Aquilano) -- with Chieti being the prime winemaking region (75% of vineyards).  Most of Abruzzo is rugged with  65% mountainous with this landscape assisting grape growing by blocking most storms from the west. And to the east, the Adriatic Sea provides a moderating Mediterranean climate for these vineyards; vines that are predominately planted in calcareous clay soils.

The most popular grape varieties in all sub-regions are Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Trebbiano d'Abruzzo. That being said, our current focus is Pecorino, a light-skinned wine grape that, in general, produces dry, minerally, driven, floral, and herbaceous wines. According to our friends at Wiki, "Pecorino is a very old variety that, as believed by ampelographers, likely originated as a wild grapevine growing in the Sibillini Mountains that was eventually domesticated for wine production".  Its name derives from the Italian word pecora, meaning sheep, most likely because sheep would often eat the grapes while moving through the vineyards. 

Pecorino's home region is actually in Marche and in the last couple of centuries was slowly phased out because of low yields. By the mid-20th century, it was thought to be extinct. But in the 1980s, Guido Cocci Grifoni decided to "search for this native vine in the wild lands of the Sibillini National Park" and the quote above is how he traced an old vine raised in Pecorino in Arquata del Tronto.  "In February 1983, the first rows of vines were grafted in different geographical exposures within the grounds of the  Cocci Grifoni Estate. And just two years later the first demijohns of wine were produced". -- The Rebirth of Pecorino

Since then, the variety's plantings have grown exponentially, and Pecorino is now found across the Marche, Abruzzo, Umbria, and Tuscany.  "The 'Abruzzo' DOC was created to protect and enhance the main autochthonous regional grape varieties, in particular Pecorino and Passerina, and by means of the 'Abruzzo' DOC, the territory of origin of these wines has been directly identified, as a guarantee of their quality, typicality, and origin." -- Consorzio Vini d'Abruzzo

This month, the Vini d’Italia 2022 experience came to Washington DC showcasing 100 wines at the Embassy of Italy, There were also two masterclasses led by journalist and author Lorenzo Ruggeri, the first focusing on Italian wines in general and the second specifically on Pecorino wines from Abruzzo. I attended this second session which compared ten Pecorino wines from ten different producers and from various sub-regions within Abruzzo.

What I discovered was that these wines were able to alleviate the high sugar content and corresponding higher alcohol into crisp, fresh, and acidic wines. In general, they provided a vibrant white flower aroma with degrees of herbaceousness with sage, basil, and thyme. The wines also alternated between a ruby red grapefruit profile and a red delicious apple profile with a major exception being the Pasetti Abruzzo Pecorino Superiore Collecivetta DOP 2020 which had a textured profile of an upside-down pineapple cake laced with melons. The Podere Colle San Massimo Abruzzo Pecorino Colle Dell'Orso DOC 2019 showed the savory side of Pecorino layered with multiple spices. Two that stood out were the Tenuta Terraviva Abruzzo Pecorino Terraviva DOC 2021 and the Tenuta I Fauri Abruzzo Pecorino DOC 2020. The first is from a small organic grower located very close to the Adriatic so this wine is a little riper with a floral aroma, savory red apples, some herbaceousness, and energetic acidity.  The second is from the first female winemaker in the Consorzio Vini d'Abruzzo and is from the Chieti sub-region. This wine also provides savory fruit and the accustomed herbaceousness but is saline driven based on the clay calcareous soils of their vineyards. Both of these are evidently priced near six euros, so you don't need to spend much to obtain quality Abruzzo Pecorino. Saluti.