Friday, December 23, 2022

Herbal Liqueurs: Amaro Montenegro 1885

We are sticking with Amaro in our Herbal Liqueur series with the Amaro Montenegro 1885. As the name suggests, this liqueur was launched in 1885 by Stanislao Cobianchi in Bologne, Italy.  Cobianchi was born in Bologne in 1862 and soon traded in his clerical robes and traveled the world tasting dozens of botanicals. Upon returning home to Bologne he experimented for four years with various recipes and when satisfied established the Cobianchi Stanislao Steam Distillery in 1885 and produced the Elisir Lungavita. Eleven years later, the future King of Italy, Prince Vittorio Emanuele III, married Princess Elena of Montenegro and this event inspired Cobianchi to change the name to Amaro Montenegro. For all intents, King Victor Emmanuel III and Queen Elena were the last monarchs in Italy with the country voting to establish a Republic in 1946.

The Amaro Montenegro is produced using 40 botanicals, including spices, dried fruits, roots, seeds, bark, citrus peels, flowers, and species of wood sourced from around the world. Of these 40 botanicals, only 13 are publicly known and are categorized into 3 different aroma profiles: citrus, spice, and herbal.  After the botanicals are boiled, macerated, and distilled, 12 unique essences remain. These essences then undergo a delicate blending process performed by the Master Herbalist to create the six notes of Amaro Montenegro: bitter & herbaceous, spicy & floral, sweet & roasted, fresh & balsamic, fruity & vegetal, and warm & tropical. There is also a final step called the Premio. This involves the micro-distillation of 5 secret botanicals that is so potent that for every 15,000 liters of Amaro Montenegro, only one liter of Premio is used. Cobianchi wanted to create a unique bottle for this elixir and hand-drew the outline for this iconic bottle.

This is a very pleasant and easy sipping amaro. On the nose expect oranges and baking spices which continue into the core flavor. The lasting finish includes limes and interestingly, cucumbers, for a very pleasant and easy elixir. Amaro Montenegro suggests several cocktails so we mixed the following:

Monte Mulled (because it's the season)
Warm up equal parts Montenegro, brandy, unfiltered apple juice, and one teaspoon of honey in a heated saucepan. Heat until steaming, then ladle into a glass mug, and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Monte & Mezcal (because I love Mezcal)
Fill a rocks glass with ice and pour equal parts Montenegro and mezcal into the glass. Very simple.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Uruguay Wine 101

Last week I participated in an Uruguay Wine 101 seminar hosted by Uruguay Wine and INAVI (Instituto Nacional de Vitivinicultura) and presented by Martina Litta (Uruguay Wine - INAVI Foreign Trade Manager) and Joaquín Hidalgo (Wine columnist, La Nación - Argentina). The seminar itself was quite informative with a presentation on the country's wine regions and major wine grapes implemented using samples from nine producers, video greetings from each producer, and the participation of a couple winemakers. Definitely a worthy candidate for a case study in successful seminars. 

Ms. Litta started the session by describing Uruguay and several general facts about this country.
  • The name means “river of the painted birds” in the indigenous Guarani language.
  • South America’s second smallest nation after Suriname with a similar surface area to Wisconsin.
  • Population 3.4 million – a population close to that of Connecticut, but less than Brooklyn and Manhattan combined.
  • Largely European heritage, primarily Spanish and Italian in origin.
  • Cows outnumber humans in Uruguay 4 to 1 and Uruguayans consume more meat per capita than any other country in the world 
Mr. Hidalgo then discussed the Uruguay wine industry where the terroir is closer to Bordeaux than either Argentina or Chile and the mild and humid climate is affected by both river and ocean influencers. 

  • With 14,804 acres/5,991 hectares under vine, the wine regions are slightly larger than Saint - Émilion in Bordeaux and slightly smaller than Alexander Valley in California.
  • The only South American terroir whose climate is affected by the Atlantic Ocean.
  • 180 wineries are currently operating in the country. Most are family-run, with two-thirds located in the Metropolitan Region.
  • More than 50% of the grape harvest in Uruguay is done by hand
  • The vineyards of Maldonado are planted above some of the oldest rocks on earth, the Río de La Plata craton, which is 2.5 billion years old.
  • Tannat is the most widely planted variety in Uruguay at 3,892 acres/1,575 ha and it is not offended by humidity.
  • In Uruguay, Tannat is also known as Harriague (Ha-ree-AH-gay), the surname of the first producer to plant it in the country.
  • The VCP label stands for Wine of Preferential Quality and distinguishes fine wines from mass-market versions.
Mr. Hidalgo then discussed the six winemaking regions of Uruguay encompassing five distinct terroirs. The dominant winds in Uruguay come from the Atlantic, bringing with them cool, rainy conditions. Peak summertime temperatures in the south can reach 87° F/31° C, with rainfall averaging 39 inches/1,000 mm annually. Peak summertime temperatures in northern Uruguay can hit 106° F/41º C, with rainfall of up to 63 inches/1,600 mm annually. 

The Regions:  

  • Metropolitan: 12,076 acres/4,887 ha
    Includes departments of San José, Canelones, and Montevideo. Deep, clay soils also include strips of pink granite, making for a terroir well-suited to Tannat. 
  • Oceanic: 1,053 acres/426 ha
    Includes two departments, Maldonado and Rocha with a varied topography which is the primary factor in distinguishing its wines. The Cuchilla Grande is the highest point in Uruguay, reaching a height of 1,600 feet/488 m above sea level, contributing a mix of granite and ballast to the soils. The climate is oceanic where white varieties dominate. 
  • Southern Riverside: 722 acres / 292 ha
    Includes departments of Colonia, Río Negro, and Soriano. The influence of the Uruguay River can be seen in the sedimentary soils of Carmelo, while the San Juan River is distinguished by rockier soils. The region accounts for 5.2% of hectares under vine in Uruguay. Carmelo lies at the center of the southern shore. A dozen wineries are scattered throughout the area. Soils are distinguished by pockets of calcium carbonate deposits. Reds are the heart of the region.
  • Northern Riverside: 408 acres/165 ha
  • Center: 109 acres/44 ha
  • North: 84 aces/34 ha
    The Rivera and Tacuarembó departments are planted in different geological formations, each rich in iron, comprising 84 acres/34 ha of vines, or 0.6% of the total. A continental climate with a significant thermal range. Experiences more hours of sunlight than any other region of Uruguay.
The Wines: 

Marichal Wines is a family-owned winery that was established in 1938 and is now in its third and fourth generation of family winemaking headed by winemakers Juan Andrés and Alejandro Marichal. The vineyards are located in the department of Canelones in the Metropolitan region. These vines benefit from warm weather, cool Atlantic breezes, and deep clay soil. The Marichal Sauvignon Blanc 2022 ($14) is very aromatic (citrus); dry, with juicy lemon and melons, some vegetable character; and finishing with chewy tannins. 

Bracco Bosca is located in Atlantida in the Oceanic region and their 11-hectare vineyard is managed by fifth-generation grower Fabiana Bracco. These vines are located just eight kilometers from the ocean and this proximity is reflected in the surprising Bracco Bosca Ombú Moscatel 2022 ($16). This is a dry wine, with the expected floral and tropical aromatics but powered by salinity and creamy melons and pears. Excellent. 

In 1979 Familia Deicas took over the historic 18th-century estate and winery of Establecimiento Juanicó -- rejuvenated that brand and launched their own Familia Deicas brand in 2000. Here they focus on premium wines with low intervention winemaking from third-generation vigneron Santiago Deicas and utilize multiple vineyards in various regions in Uruguay. One of these vineyards is the Sierra de Mahoma, San José - located in western Montevideo. This vineyard is called the “sea of stones” because it looks like a sea bed with loam soils that are covered in gravel and almost vertical schist. The low fertility and limited water-storing capacity mean that these vineyards produce a very low yield of very concentrated grapes. This minerality is evident in the Familia Deicas Bodegones del Sur Vineyards Select Cabernet Franc 2020 ($20) which also includes a minty aroma and juicy herbaceous and red fruit flavors. 30% of the wine was aged in American and French oak barrels --providing greater roundness.

Gimenez Mendez is a family winery where the first vines were planted in 1950 and today is run by Marta Marta Méndez Parodi and her youngest son Mauro Giménez Méndez. The winery specializes in Tannat grown in Las Brujas, a sub-region in Canelones, and, in fact, currently releases seven different styles of Tannat. Summers are dry in Las Brujas with high daytime temperatures which shift to the colder side in the evenings from the cool coastal breezes. This enhances acidity that is abundant in the Giménez Méndez Alta Reserva Tannat 2020 ($18). Also expect ripe red fruit and a slight black pepper and tobacco nose, followed by plums and other black fruit, the aforementioned juicy acidity, and solid tannins.

Winemaking in the Toscanini family descends over 100 years into the past when the patriarch of the family emigrated from Italy and settled in the department of Canelones, producing his first wine in 1908.  Seven decades later (in 1979), Margot Toscanini de Montes and her brother acquired the current winery in Las Piedras, giving rise to Montes Toscanini. And in 1995, the responsibility of the winery descended to Enól. Leonardo Montes Toscanini, who along with other members of the fourth generation of the family, has run the winery to this day. The grapes for the Montes Toscanini Gran Tannat Premium 2019 ($59) are grown in Altos de La Ballena where the soils are predominantly clay-loam with some calcareous material and have a gentle slope. In addition, the proximity to the River Plate provides maritime and estuary influence with mild and steady temperatures throughout the year. This Gran Tannat is an impressive wine made using classical production methods. Expect more black pepper; creamy red fruit, great depth, and juicy and approachable tannins.

Pisano Wines also shares a century of winemaking tradition - this time in Progreso in Canelones - and is operated by three Pisano brothers: Gustavo, the winemaker; Eduardo, the agronomist; and Daniel, the export manager. The family traces their heritage to Italian and Basque immigrants - this later from the group of people who introduced Tannat to Uruguay. Again like Montes Toscanini, the Pisano wines benefit from the Río de la Plata (River Plate) - an estuary formed by the confluence of the Uruguay River and the Paraná River at Punta Gorda.  The Pisano Reserva de la Familia Tannat 2018 ($24) is a fresh and well-rounded wine with light and chewy sour cherries that alternate with darker fruit and soft tannins. 

Alto de la Ballena is a small winery operating in the Sierra de la Ballena located just 15 kilometers from the Atlantic coast. The small 8-hectare estate vineyard benefits from the oceanic air as well as excellent drainage from the steep, granite, and schist hillside mountain soils. The winery's birth is dated at the Millenium when  Paula and Alvaro quit their finance jobs after spending the previous two years searching for the ideal vineyard location. They found that in the Maldonado department in the Oceanic region.  They showed an interesting wine in the Alto de la Ballena Tannat – Viognier 2018 ($24) - an 85-15% blend. They manage both lots so that they can be harvested very close together allowing for co-fermentation. The Viognier adds a more intense aroma and softens the Tannat's tannins creating a lovely wine. Still structured with juice acidity, some herbs, and juice and chewy sour cherries. 

Bodega Bouza is an innovative winery and the very first to plant Albariño in Latin America to incorporate the family's Spanish roots from Galicia. They also farm several other winegrapes in five vineyards from the metropolitan areas of Montevideo and Canelones to the oceanic-influenced Maldonado region. These are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Tempranillo, and Tannat. The last three comprise their Bouza Monte Vide Eu (Tempranillo - Merlot - Tannat) 2019 ($67) - a full-bodied and structured wine providing a robust mouthfeel. This is structured at 50% Tannat, 30% Merlot, and 20% Tempranillo and the grapes are vinified and initially aged separately then aged together for a total of up to 16 months in French and American oak barrels. This is an exceptional Oceanic wine. 

Basta Spirit was founded in 2018 and produces spirits using a Tannat base. The Basta Spirit Vermut Flores Rosé ($16) contains 27 botanicals, including flowers such as hops, chamomile, rose, and elderberry. It is extremely aromatic, with loads of herbaceousness and forest spiciness - very gin-like. I plan on using this in a Negroni, and replacing the gin with mezcal, since this Vermut has suitable gin flavors. 

Monday, December 12, 2022

Ron Rubin Winery -> Pam's UN-Oaked Cabernet + Chardonnay 2021

We've been casual followers of Ron Rubin ever since he purchased the River Road Family Vineyards &Winery back in 2011 and his subsequent Ron Rubin Winery releases of Russian River Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Last month we received word of a new project, Pam's UN-Oaked Cabernet + Chardonnay. This series pays tribute to "Pam Rubin, Ron’s wife of 48 years -- and no fan of oaky wines, red or white!".  The labels for these wines feature the B Corp Certified (B = Benefit for All) logo. The B Corp Certification is a designation that a "business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials". 

Pam's UN-Oaked Chardonnay 2021 ($14)
The grapes for this wine are sourced from family-owned vineyards in Clarksburg and Lodi with both regions providing grapes with matured ripeness and fresh acidity. The juice was cold fermented in stainless steel tanks in order to maintain this acidity. The result is an aromatic wine, full-bodied, with layers of melons and pears, minerality, and fresh acids. A tremendous value. 

Pam's UN-Oaked Cabernet Sauvignon 2021 ($16)
These grapes were sourced from family-owned vineyards in the same Clarksburg and Lodi AVAs where "deep frost in late 2020, coupled with continued drought, led to a lighter-than-usual harvest yielding fruit with concentrated flavor and bright acidity".  The grapes were also fermented in stainless steel tanks with the abv weighing in at a reasonable 12.5%.  This is such a vibrant and approachable wine, bursting with black fruit and juicy acidity.  Immediately an extended family favorite. 

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Herbal Liqueurs: Amaro Nonino Quintessentia®

Amaro translates to “bitter” in Italian, but the category of bittersweet herbaceous liqueurs is far from one-note. It spans a range of flavors and styles, from light and citrusy Aperol to bracing and minty Fernet-Branca, not to mention countless artisanal brands you may have never heard of. An amaro is a bittersweet herbal liqueur that is made by infusing an alcoholic base, such as a neutral spirit, grape brandy, or wine, with botanical ingredients that include herbs, citrus peels, roots, spices, and flowers; the exact recipes are often closely held secrets. The resulting liquid is sweetened and then aged. Amari (the plural of amaro) can be produced anywhere, but they’re a cornerstone of Italian culture. Monasteries started making bittersweet liqueurs as far back as the 13th century, touting their healing properties and digestive benefits, and in the 1800s Italian producers such as Averna and Ramazzotti took amari to the masses. Today, amari are most often sipped as pre-dinner aperitivi to whet the appetite or post-dinner digestive to aid in digestion. -- Audrey Morgan,

We are staying within the Herbal Liqueurs category and moving to the Italian specialty: Amaro. And the gold standard starts with the Amaro Nonino Quintessentia®.

The Grappa Nonino Distillery was founded in 1897 by Orazio Nonino in the Friuli region of Italy and has run through six generations as Benito and Giannola passed control over to their three daughters Cristina, Antonella, and Elisabetta (the 5th generation).  And the 6th generation has already made an impact with Cristina's daughter Francesca taking a role in the family operations.

In 1933, Antonio Nonino (the third generation) starts producing Nonino liqueurs like the Amaro Carnia, an infusion of herbs from the mountains of Friuli, using the grappa as the base. In 1940, "Silvia Nonino – Antonio’s wife and an excellent cook – left a widower and becomes the first woman to manage a distillery; her great knowledge of botanicals leads her to create the 'Aperitivo Bianco Nonino', a drink for the pleasure of the palate and the spirit. It is the first time that in the distillery they experience the female touch in the art of liqueurs and distillation. Silvia will be the first of a long series of Nonino woman distillers". During her tenure Silvia also enriches the recipe of the Amaro Carnia, with selected botanicals, to create a more complex amaro:  Amaro del Friuli.

In 1973, Benito (4th generation) and Giannola Nonino started a worldwide distilling trend by introducing the very first single variety grappa -- Nonino Monovitigno, made from Picolit - an indigenous grape from the Nonino distillery's home region of Friuli Venezia Giulia. The concept was revolutionary because suppliers traditionally combined the pomace (the post-pressed pulpy matter of grape skins, flesh, seeds, and stems) for all grape varieties into the same bins. The combined pomace was usually then fermented and distilled into grappa. And most winemakers were reluctant to change this process until Giannola recruited the wives to separate the varieties in exchange for higher payments.

In 1992, the distillery replaced grappa in the recipe of the family amaro with ÙE® Grape distillate aged for a minimum of 12 months in barriques and small casks. This grape distillate was created by Giannola and Benito in 1984 using a discontinuous distillation* process in copper steam stills. This amaro was also rebranded as Amaro Nonino Quintessentia®. The ancient family recipe still uses herbs from the mountains of Friuli and the grape distillate is usually a blend of Ribolla Gialla, Moscato, and Malvasia grape pomace. The Quintessentia® is packaged in an old pharmacy bottle at 70 proof. 

This is a lighter-bodied and friendly liqueur showing citrus and forest herbs. Our bartender friends love its suitability in cocktails like the Paper Plane. Cheers.

The Paper Plane
3/4 ounce bourbon
3/4 ounce Aperol
3/4 ounce Amaro Nonino Quintessentia
3/4 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed

* Discontinuous distillation means that at the end of each "batch", or distillation cycle, the distilled grape pomace is unloaded from the cauldrons and replaced with other fresh grape pomace ready to be distilled. Therefore, between each cycle of distillation, it is necessary to stop the process to allow loading and unloading. The "discontinuous" method represents the historic and artisan system to produce Grappa and is not to be confused with the industrial "continuous" method.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Herbal Liqueurs: Badel Pelinkovac

Badel Pelinkovac Gorki is the oldest and most famous Croatian herbal liqueur that was first crafted by Franjo Pokorny in 1871 at the Zagreb Liquor Factory in Zagreb. This factory had been founded eleven years earlier (hence Badel 1862) and Pokorny had purchased it to expand his production of liqueurs and Sljivovica. Pokorny was such a tenacious salesman, that he was able to expand sales throughout Europe - particularly to the Hapsburgs in Vienna and the French Imperial court of Napoleon III - the nephew of Napoleon I and the last French monarch. 

In 1886, the Zagreb Liquor Factory expanded and added the Patria distillery to its company. Patria was making fine liqueurs and its most famous Patria Medicinal Brandy which was sold in pharmacies and is known today as Badel Brandy. In 1947, after World War II, three distilleries combined to form the  Zagreb factory of Liqueurs and Wines. These were Pokorny's Zagreb Liquor Factory and Patria distilleries and the A. A Baker & Co. Two years after this the Arko factory (a family operation that originally opened in 1861 and produced sparkling wines, brandy, and liqueurs) is added to the conglomerate. In 1950, the factory was renamed Marijan Badel. In 1991, with more mergers, a new company is formed: Badel 1862.

Badel Pelinkovac is produced according to a traditional maceration method where selected curative herbs from the Velebit mountain, with the dominant herb Pelin (lat. Artemisia Absinthium or in English Wormwood), are soaked in high-quality grain alcohol and then left to age in wooden barrels for several weeks. A percentage of the produced macerate is then distilled in copper pot stills and finally, the distillate and the macerate are blended into Badel Pelinkovac. In fact, as we learned from master blender Vesna Jurak in the video below, Badel 1862 employs the 3rd oldest pot still in the world. The final alcohol content ranges from 28% to 35% by volume.

The spirit starts with a savory pine tar and mint aroma, is slightly bitter, and then transitions to the sweeter side. It's minty throughout with some orange rind and a lengthy finale.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Herbal Liqueurs: Zwack Unicum

In 1790, Habsburg ruler Joseph II had a bout of indigestion, and asked Dr. József Zwack, royal physician to the Imperial Court, for a remedy. Dr. Zwack offered the Holy Roman Emperor a sip of an herbal digestive and which Joseph II responded, "Das ist ein Unikum!" ("This is unique!")

I've had my share of indigestion over the years and instead of popping Gaviscon like candy or taking Omeprazole, I've decided to look at herbal remedies - and specifically - herbal liqueurs as a digestive. And there's no better place to start than Hungarian Unicom from a bottle purchased in 2001.  

Fifty years after this encounter with Joseph II, József Zwack founded the J Zwack & Co., and the first herb liqueur made under the name “Unicum” and using the same recipe occurred on May 22, 1883. The round bottle contained the recognizable red circle and gold cross on its belly implying its medicinal value.  As demand increased son Lajos moved the distillery to its present location in 1892. By 1926, Zwack Lajos’s sons, Béla Zwack and János Zwack had both joined the Company. 

During WWII, Budapest was one of the most bombed cities in Europe, and the distillery was completely destroyed. After the war, during which the family lived in a cellar with two unexploded bombs over their heads, János and Béla, completely rebuilt the factory using the most modern technology available at the time. When, in 1948, the firm was finally ready to resume production at pre-war levels, the newly instated Communist government confiscated everything the family possessed with no compensation and "the world as I knew it", to quote Péter Zwack, János's son, "came to an end". János fled to the West with the Unicum recipe in his breast pocket, having bribed the Russian drivers to take him across the border. Béla chose to remain in Hungary and was deported, together with thousands of other "class enemies", to eke out an existence on the Great Hungarian Plain. Péter Zwack took a train to the Yugoslav border and then walked his way to Trieste where, with an overwhelming surge of joy and relief, he saw the British fleet at anchor in the bay.

When János Zwack arrived in the United States he discovered that the Communist State-run company was still exporting products to the USA under the Zwack name. He filed a court case against the importers and the government to retain the right to his family trademarks. In the end, he succeeded: in a precedent-setting ruling the State-run company was no longer allowed to use the name Unicum or Zwack in the West. 

In 1988, Péter Zwack returned to Hungary and then, together with his partner, Emil Underberg of the German spirits dynasty, formed Péter Zwack und Consorten AG and later they entered into a joint venture with the State-run distillery. Four years later they founded Zwack Unicum Plc. after submitting a successful bid during the privatization process and were thus able to buy back the enterprise from the State.  Obviously, my bottle was produced during the Communist management of the distillery.

Unicum is still produced using the same recipe as in 1790 which features over forty herbs. The majority of these herbs and spices come from the Carpathian basin, but ingredients are also imported from Morocco, China, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nigeria, the Americas, and Australia. The herbs are measured by hand to this day, while some special ingredients, known as the "heart” of Unicum, are personally weighed out by a family member, currently by Péter Zwack’s widow, Anne Marshall Zwack.

In order to produce Unicum, half the herbs are macerated and the others are distilled and sometimes the same herb is both macerated and distilled. During maceration, the herbs are immersed in corn alcohol, a process that provides an intensive, rich flavor, The macerated and distilled herbs are then blended together in a traditional wooden vat. The spirit is then aged in oak casks, just like the 1790 version, and today the distillery employs 500 oak casks located in cellars under the Soroksári Road distillery

And Unicom is complex. I got citrus, sweet orange rind, and pine notes on the nose. The palate is bitter, then turns a little sweet with licorice, ginger, and lemongrass notes. The finish is long, Very long. So far, no need for Gaviscon. Cheers. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Oltrepò Pavese DOC Pinot Nero and Others

Lombardy is one of Italy's largest and most populous regions and is located in the north-central part of the country. It consists of five DOCG, 21 DOC, and 15 IGP titles with the Oltrepò Pavese DOC being one of the larger and better-known regions. Oltrepò  Pavese refers to Pavia across the Po -- or more meaningful - the area south of the Po River. The region lies in southwest Lombardy and shares many common features with neighboring Piedmont as both regions were once ruled by the House of Savoy.

Viticulture has been prevalent in Oltrepò Pavese for thousands of years as evidenced by the discovery of a fossilized caràsa, that is, a fossilized vine trunk, 25 cm long by 6 cm in diameter, found near Casteggio (Consorzio Tutela Vini Oltrepò Pavese). And why not. According to, "the vineyards of the Oltrepo zone sit among the foothills between the Apennines and the river Po in the provinces of Alessandria, Genoa, and Piacenza. The vines benefit from an excellent microclimate (thanks to its proximity to the Po), well-drained soils rich in clay and calcareous marl, and a terroir often compared to that of Barolo".  In 1884 Oltrepò Pavese was home to at least 225 native vines, but today there are just a dozen that are the most widespread.
Last week I attended a fascinating lunch at Cafe Milano featuring wines from Oltrepò Pavese presented by Carlo Veronese, the director of the Consorzio Vini Oltrepò. Even though there are 20 classifications within Oltrepò Pavese, this tasting focused on the Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG, Oltrepò Pavese Pinot Grigio, Pinot Nero dell'Oltrepo Pavese, and Sangue di Giuda dell'Oltrepo Pavese. And notice that the wines of Oltrepò Pavese are generally named from the vines from which they are made and not just the region.
Pinot Nero dell'Oltrepò Pavese DOC
Oltrepò Pavese is considered the Pinot Nero (Noir) capital of Italy as more Pinot Nero is planted there than anywhere else in Italy. Interestingly, the original genotypes of Pinot Noir were already cultivated in the Oltrepò areas by the ancient Romans and may have been the source of Pinot Noir in the south of France. However, the current Pinot Noir vines derive from French selections that were planted after the Phylloxera epidemic. Pinot Nero can be labeled as a vintage wine or a Reserva with a minimum of two years of aging.

The Cantina di Casteggio Pinot Nero Dell'Oltrepò Pavese DOC 2020 is a lighter style but with noticeable tannins and a little chewy mint.

The Dino Torti Pinot Nero Dell'Oltrepò Pavese DOC 2019 was perhaps my favorite despite the interesting branding. It's floral with creamy red raspberries and cherries and a viscosity throughout.

The Mazzolino Pinot Nero Dell'Oltrepò Pavese DOC 2018 was the biggest of the reds, aged twelve months in oak and offering a tea and pepper aroma, a full-bodied interior, with a firm and lasting finish.

Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG
Metodo classico is Italy's version of Champagne's methode classique and Pinot Nero is dominant in all wines made under this title.  The sparkling wine can be made either as a white or rosé and 70 percent or more of the final blend must be Pinot Nero. This percentage increases to 85 percent for wines claiming the varietal title Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico Pinot Nero.  Picked at the early stages of skin ripeness, Pinot Nero displays a good balance of acidity and sugar required for these sparkling wines.

The Asburgico Oltrepò Pavese DOCG Metodo Classico Pinot Nero 2018 explodes in the mouth with textured citrus notes.

The Azienda Agricola Quaquarini Francesco Oltrepò Pavese DOCG Metodo Classico Pinot Nero 2014 needed a few minutes to open then the floral, white grapefruit and a little tropic fruit notes rushed out.

Oltrepò Pavese Pinot Grigio DOC
This title applies to still and frizzante white wines containing at least 85 percent Pinot Grigio.

The Vanzini Oltrepò Pavese Pinot Grigio DOC was an eye-opener on the region's richer style and orangish-colored versions of this varietal wine.

Sangue di Giuda dell'Oltrepo Pavese DOC
The title translates to "Blood of Judas" and applies to sweet red wines which can be still, frizzante (semi-sparkling), or spumante. Barbera and Croatina must each account for between 25 and 65 percent of any blend with Pinot Nero, Uva Rara, and Vespolina alone or in any combination, accounting for 45 percent. The intriguing and sometimes controversial name Sangue di Giuda means "Blood of Judah" or "Blood of Judas". 

The Losito & Guarini Sangue Di Giuda Dell'Oltrepò Pavese DOC, C'era Una Volta 2021 is a low alcohol (6%), full-bodied, and fresh wine where the sweetness is partially obscured by the abundant acidity.

Oltrepò Pavese Riesling
The Ca Di Frara Oliva Oltrepò Pavese Riesling DOC also provides a darker copper color with tropical and petrol notes.

Oltrepò Pavese Barbera
The Ca Montebello Oltrepò Pavese Barbera DOC 2020 is fruit-forward, and very friendly with a floral start and a slight mocha tail.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Enjoy Beer, Wine, and Scenic Views from Hazy Mountain Vineyards & Brewery


We can all agree that every winery provides its own unique glorious view of the surrounding countryside and the views from Hazy Mountain Vineyards & Brewery are no exception. Except that it may provide the best mountain and valley views in Virginia, and arguably the entire East Coast.  The 35-acre estate vineyard off Afton Mountain is planted on south-facing slopes ranging in elevation from 800 feet to 1,140 feet within the Monticello AVA. And with amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Piedmont valleys.

In addition to the estate vineyard, Hazy Mountain farms 50 acres in the cooler Shenandoah AVA west of Staunton, on the southeast-facing slopes of the west side of the Shenandoah Valley. The Little North Mountain Vineyard also houses their production facility. Thus Hazy Mountain offers wines from two distinct Virginia AVAs - cool climate Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, and Pinot Noir from the Shenandoah Valley and Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Verdot from Nelson County and the Monticello AVA.

We stuck to the white wines and were very impressed with these cool climate varietal wines. We learned that the 2020 Chenin Blanc was fermented and aged in large French oak puncheons and aged on lees in a barrel for 11 months, providing rich fruit texture and a larger mouthfeel. Great acidity too. As did the 2019 Dry Riesling and 2020 Gruner Veltliner with the Riesling very light in the Kabinett style and the Gruner providing layers of white grapefruit. As for beer, go no further than the German Pilsner. Excellent. Can't wait to visit for a Nelson County Dark Skies night.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Virginia Cider Week & Cider Smackdown: Attack of the Crab

Virginia Cider Week
started last Friday and runs through November 20th and we attended the kickoff event Cider Smackdown: Attack of the Crab at Albemarle CiderWorks. This event was a blind tasting of eight Virginia ciders composed of crab apples and the entries consisted of either Virginia Hewes, Wickson, or Rub Ted Crabapple.

Hewe’s Crab was the most common fruit variety grown in eighteenth-century Virginia. It is thought to be a cross between the native American crabapple, Malus angustifolia, and the domesticated European apple of horticulture. It produces a delicious cinnamon-flavored cider that is both sugary and pungent. Jefferson planted his entire north orchard exclusively with this variety and once wrote that crushing the juicy Hewe's Crab for cider was like "squeezing a wet sponge." Its small, round fruit, which ripens in September in Central Virginia, is dull red and streaked with green. (

Wickson Crab was developed by Albert Etter, an apple enthusiast best known for his work on pink-fleshed and red-fleshed apples. Wickson was the result of crossing two other crab apple varieties. Confusingly Etter refers to them as Spitzenberg crab and Newtown crab in his patent papers, but it is not thought they are related to the mainstream apples of the same names but were crabs developed by Etter himself...Like most crab apples Wickson is very small and is also a hardy and problem-free tree. However, that is where the resemblance to other crab apples ends. Wickson is unusually sweet, but at the same time has a strong acid component. The result is an apple that has a very strong flavor, making it an excellent component for cider blends. (

Ruby Red is a chance seedling that actually originates from the property. The tree was found behind an old cabin at the base of Priest Mountain by John Saunders and after noting the apples' intense flavor and colored flesh, they chose to propagate the apple for commercial purposes. (Troddenvale at Oakley Farm

The Cider Smackdown was a blind tasting where attendees voted on their two favorites or a single favorite getting both votes. Each of the ciders was completely unique even those composed of the same apple varieties, as cellar techniques varied among the cideries. The Albemarle CiderWorks Wickson Crab received the most votes followed by a three-way tie of the Sage Bird Cider Virginia Hewes CrabHalcyon Days Cider Occam's Razor, and Big Fish Cider Virginia Hewes Crab.  I had recognized the Sage Bird Hewes Crab from opening a bottle a few weeks previously when studying for the CCP. Love the fleshy tart and bittersweet notes. My other vote went to the Potter's Craft Cider Wickson Crab (which finished in a three-way tie with the Lost Boy Cider Cellar Series: Hewes and Courthouse Creek Cider Crabtree Falls.  The Potter's Wickson Crab was aged in French oak wine barrels and was able to retain tartness and acidity while providing red currants on the nose and a full body palate.  The Troddenvale Grower Series, Silver Creek Orchards - 2021 rounded out the entries and this was my first taste of a Ruby Red Crabapple cider. There was an interesting farmhouse hoppy flavor combined with creamy lees and a bittersharp finish.

We came home with a bottle each of the Albemarle CiderWorks Wickson Crab and Halcyon Days Occam's Razor but hope to revisit all of these ciders during the BevFluence® New Perspectives on Cider, Perry, and Brandy campaign. All ciders are welcome for the campaign. Cheers. 

Thursday, November 3, 2022

New Perspectives on Wines of Uruguay

Last week the Uruguay Wine Fall Tour landed in Washington DC where 16 producers poured several wines each at  La Cosecha (voted one of America's Top 50 Best Wine Retailers in 2021). The tour was sponsored by Uruguay Wine, the brand used by INAVI - Instituto Nacional de Vitivinicultura to promote Uruguayan wine around the world. During a previous tasting almost a decade ago, the emphasis was strictly on Tannat -- introduced into Uruguay in 1870 by Basque immigrants and at the time had represented one-third of all wine produced in that country.  And yes, there were several single-varietal Tannat wines and Tannat-based blends poured at this event. However, I was more impressed by the emergence of other grape varietals and stylistic changes. 

Uruguay resides in the same parallels as its neighbors Argentina & Chile, but also South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. The soils are mostly clay, there's plenty of sunshine, and the vineyards are primarily situated near the Rios de la Plata (across from Buenos Aires) or near the Atlantic Ocean. Think cool coastal breezes and balanced and structured wines. There's a relatively long wine-making tradition in the county as immigrants from Spain, Italy, and Germany brought their wine-making traditions and wine grapes with them. 

The first new trend I noticed was the expansion of Albariño. The grape was introduced into Uruguay by the Bouza Winery incorporating the family's Spanish roots from Galicia. They also farm several other winegrapes in five vineyards from the metropolitan areas of Montevideo and Canelones to the oceanic-influenced Maldonado region. These are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Tempranillo, and Tannat. The last three comprise their Mount Vide Eu - a full-bodied and structured wine providing a robust mouthfeel. Yet, it was their tropical fruit and saline-driven Albariño 2022 that piqued my interest in discovering who else was producing wines from this grape variety.

Bodega Garzon was the next station I visited and they poured a coastal and racy Albariño Reserve 2022 that featured grapefruit and refreshing acids and minerality.  In addition, their Pinot Noir Rosé 2022 was very provencal - elegant with layers of strawberries. 

Another excellent example was provided by Familia Deicas and their Atlantico Sur Albariño.  As the name suggests, the grapes are grown no further than 30 kilometers from the coast where the cooler temperatures allow for slow ripening and fresh wine. This version has similar acidity and saline as the Bouza but shows more floral and citrus notes.  Familia Deicas has been very innovative throughout the years by producing the first Sauternes-style noble rot wine in Uruguay, the first ISO 9001 Quality Certification in South America, the first Tannat Liqueur in Uruguay, the first Tannat produced according to the Bordeaux Cru Garage techniques in Uruguay, and many others.

Winemaker Santiago Deicas has continued this innovation through his  Bizarra Extravaganza brand. This project began in 2014 when he started making craft beer and inspiration from the purity of that beverage triggered the concept of producing natural wines. Two of these wines were presented at the tasting: the Vino Natural Amphora and Vino Natural Orange. The former is made from 100% Tannat and aged two months in Amphora and 10 months in concrete tanks. The latter is composed of Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng and is aged nine months in used French oak and concrete tanks. Both are truly unique with the Amphora showing fruit-forward Tannat.

Another fruit-forward innovative wine was the Pizzorno Maceracion Carbonica Tannat 2022. The wine was fermented using carbonic maceration in concrete tanks where, in a carbon dioxide-rich environment, most of the juice is fermented while still inside the grape. The resulting wine is low in tannins and showcases the grape's fruit - in this case, rich raspberries and cherries. The 4th generation at Pizzorno Family Estates also poured a very elegant Pinot Noir Reserve 2020 and a sturdy Tannat Reserve 2020 with the grapes from all of these wines grown in the country's largest wine region: Canelones. 

Another new perspective occurred while visiting the table for Bodega Cerro Chapeu. This 10th-generation family started producing wine in Catalonia in 1792 and in Uruguay in 1930. They are located in the Cerro Chapeu of the Rivera wine region which is located in northern Uruguay - very close to the Brazilian border.  This continental region is "characterized by its vineyards on the sides of hills and slopes, around 220 meters high, and its deep red sand soils with very good drainage and the seasons are drier with longer sun hours. Ideal for late-maturing varieties like Trebbiano and Malvasia. These are the grapes that form the Castel Pujol Folklore Pet Nat. The grapes are fermented separately and right before complete fermentation, they are blended and bottled. I was not expecting a fun wine like this. They also poured a delicious still version of the Pet Nat, the Castel Pujol Folklore Blanco, with plenty of fruitiness and surprisingly body. Finally, they continued to stretch traditional winemaking with the Castel Pujol Folklore Tinto -- 80% Tannat co-pigmentation with 20% Petit Manseng first press skins. What a mouthfeel. 

A similar co-fermentation occurred with Alto de la Ballena and their 2018 Tannat - Viognier Reserve. This is an 85% - 15% co-fermented blend aged for nine months in American oak barrels. The Viognier softens the Tannat and provides a pleasant floral aroma. This 20-year-old winery is located in the southeast and seaside region of Maldonado and also produces a luscious Cabernet Franc Reserve - silky and juicy in nature

Perhaps the most delicious Cabernet Franc was provided by Bracco Basca and their 2021 Cabernet Franc. Layers of dark cherries, structured, and a long satisfying tail. The winery was founded in 2005 by Darwin Bracco and Mirtha Bosca "but its vineyards have been in the family for 5 generations. Originally from Piedmont, Italy, the family moved to Uruguay and established in Atlántida region to continue the wine tradition".  This winery is also releasing several innovative products such as the first dry Muscatel in Uruguay as well as a Merlot - Ugni Blanc Claret. Fun, fantastic wines. 

Looking forward to visiting all these wineries in person one day. Cheers. 

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Grappa, Brandy, Vidal, and Sangiovese at Maryland's Fiore Winery & Distillery

Since attending my first Maryland wine festival about 20 years ago and through various festivals and trade tastings over the successive years, I've wanted to visit Fiore Winery & Distillery. Yet its relatively remote location with its back to the Pennsylvania border in northeast Maryland hindered that effort. Fortunately this past weekend we traveled to visit relatives in Harford County who live only minutes away from the Free State's 12th bonded winery.

This year Fiore Winery is celebrating its 36th anniversary which doesn't include the many earlier years when founder Mike Fiore joined the Maryland Wine Association and planted two acres of 150 Vidal Blanc vines. After making the difficult decision to become bonded they expanded the plantings with more French hybrids such as Chancellor and Chambourcin and it was a bottle of an aged Reserve Chambourcin that drew my attention to the winery and the wine I would seek out at future tastings and festivals. The family added several vinifera grapes to their portfolio including a uniquely Maryland Sangiovese to honor Mike's Italian heritage. And eventually seeing the popularity of craft distilling on the horizon, they incorporated distilling and warehouse operations into the farm.

Their current lineup includes a large range of dry to sweet wines and traditional spirits to flavored moonshine. The three of us shared two wine flights of seven wines each and a spirit flight of four samples. For the spirits, I chose the Bourbon Whiskey ($34.99), Straight Rye Whiskey ($29.99), Apple Brandy ($29.99), and Grappa Nicholas Reserve ($39.99). The two whiskies were excellent representatives of their genres with the Bourbon rounder than the Rye, but both having a dry lasting finish.  The Apple Brandy is a solid spirit where the apple fruit dominates the palate and ends with a clean pomme finish. Fiore produces two grappas by distilling the leftover pomace from their estate-grown grapes. The Reserve is produced by aging a portion of that spirit in specially designed 30-gallon oak casks for a minimum of two years. This rounds out the intense profile of the grappa providing roundness, nuts, and honey. Nicely done. 

We stuck to mostly their dry wines and for the whites, their traditional dry Vidal Blanc ($14.99) being the consensus among our party. The wine provides plenty of tropical and stone fruit notes and refreshing acidity -- excellent for a sunny, autumn day. Their Chambourcin 2016 ($19.99) is still one of the best produced in the Free State, aged two years in oak, and shows loads of dark fruit (without the jamminess) with a round slightly tannic finish. We tried the single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot but these grapes are better represented in the Proprietor's Select Meritage 2014 ($39.99) -- a proprietary blend aged two years in new Hungarian oak barrels.  A mouthful of structured fruit and a lasting tail. Fiore is an east-coast pioneer in planting Sangiovese and offers two versions in their tasting room. The Sangiovese 2013 ($19.99) is a fresher wine whereas the Proprietor's Select Sangiovese 2014 ($39.99) is aged longer in new Hungarian oak barrels which helps create a fuller character with some earthiness and chocolate mixing with the dark fruit. The final wine was the Green Apple Riesling ($12.99) which is also canned and a little sweeter than the others. However, the tartness of the apples and acidity from the Riesling helps alleviate that sensation for a refreshing palate cleanser. 

During the visit, we learned more about the area and hope to return soon to visit the neighboring breweries (in both PA and MD) and hike to Kilgore Falls --  Maryland’s second-highest free-falling waterfall. See what other craft beverage operations are in the area using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers. 

Friday, October 21, 2022

Studying for the Certified Cider Professional Level 1 Exam with Sage Bird Ciderworks Virginia Hewe's Crab

I finally began preparing for the Certified Cider Professional (CCP) exam this week as part of the BevFluence New Perspectives on Cider, Perry, and Brandy campaign and thought that the Sage Bird Ciderworks Virginia Hewe's Crab would be an appropriate study device. The American Cider Association (ACA) presents two levels for the CCP, " Level 1 CCP is designed for people who would benefit from a deeper but still introductory level of cider knowledge. The more advanced Certified PommelierTM test covers more in-depth cider knowledge, including sensory evaluation". 

The Level 1 CCP exam focuses on seven categories (1) Apples, the Orchard & History; (2) Cidermaking; (3) Evaluation; (4) Families & Flavor; (5) Keeping & Serving; (6) Food & Cider; and (7) Social Responsibility. I will now present the Virginia Hewe's Crab cider in terms of reviewing for the CCP. 

Sage Bird Ciderworks is located in downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia and opened a couple years ago due to the persistent hard work of Zach and Amberlee Carlson. This is the first cidery in the home of the Dukes and they offer a wide array of various styles and apple varieties including Hewe's Crab from their Age Old Apples series. 

Hewe's Crab was once the most popular apple variety in Virginia and is thought to be a cross between the native American crabapple, Malus angustifolia, and a domesticated European apple. The Hewe's Crab apples for this cider were harvested from orchards in the mountains surrounding the Shenandoah Valley. These are most likely low-density and freestanding orchards with relatively wide spacing between the trees.  Each individual tree is also most likely a graft of a Hewe's Crab scion fused to a rooted tree. 

The Hewe's Crab apple itself is considered Bittersharp with the bitter implying high tannins (polyphenols) and the sharp implying high acidity (malic acid). This is based on the Long Ashton Research Station (LARS) classification. The tannins and acidity can provide this cider the capability to age.  The apple's flesh is white so makes a clear cider as opposed to some cider apples with pinkish flesh which can add a little color to the cider without having to macerate on their skins - unlike red wine grapes. However, I believe this cider was aged several months in oak which will impart color and other flavors. 

Let's look at this particular cider bottle. Since the cider is over 7% abv, its label is regulated by the TTB, whereas labels for ciders under 7% are regulated by the FDA. The TTP requires the ABV, total volume, name and address of the producers, and whether the cider contains sulfites. You will not see vintages or designated geographic areas like the wine AVA system. This label provides additional information stating its sweetness level (dry) and composition -- 100% Virginia grown, single heirloom Hewe's Crab Apples. 

This Virginia Hewe's Crab cider is made from 100% apples and thus falls into the cider category as opposed to the Perry, Fruit Cider, Botanical Cider, or Dessert Cider categories. The ACA uses five commonly accepted flavors that we can taste so let's examine this cider in terms of sweetness, acidity/sourness, bitterness, salt, and savoriness. This is a caramel-colored cider, completely dry, with a tart, tannic, and full-bodied. There is a general savoriness I think both from the flesh and the oak treatment. The cider also provides an interesting array of pineapples, raisins, and a little saltiness or saline. 

The ACA recommends several food and cider pairings - particularly with a Bittersharp cider apple like this Virginia Hewe's Crab.  The acidity has a cleansing quality that cuts through fat and rich flavors and thus refreshes the palate. High tannins can have a similar effect. Think beef short ribs, pork schnitzel, sausage,  nutty and mushroom flavors, and dense cheeses. And because of the cider's rich tannins, it can be paired with similar intense foods and not be overwhelmed.

The preparation for the CCP sure increases the amount of information to process when evaluating a cider. Cheers.