Saturday, February 26, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Brachetto DOC Rosé Spumante

Brachetto is a black-skinned Italian wine grape grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The grape specifically is suited for the soils in Monferrato, in the Province of Asti, noted for their limestone, calcareous clay, and marine minerals.  Brachetto is regulated both by the Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG (established in 1996) and the Brachetto DOC (established in 1969) where it is made in sweeter styles usually frizzante or spumante. Brachetto wines are light-bodied and very low-alcohol (typically around 5 percent), yet these wines are also highly aromatic and flavorful.  In addition, these wines have a deep ruby red color, produced by macerating the must with the grape skins for approximately two days, during which time the characteristic ruby pigment leaches out.  The spumante style is then created using the Martinotti method (Charmat method) in which the brief secondary fermentation takes place in large vats, preserving all the natural aromas. 

We recently received a sample of the Acquesi Brachetto DOC ($17.99) which is imported into the United States by Mack & Schuhle and produced by the Cuvage winery in Acqui Terme. The winery was founded in 2011 as a sparkling wine house specializing in the traditional method (Metodo Classico) and Charmat method (Metodo Martinotti) using native varieties like Nebbiolo, Moscato, and Brachetto. Cuvage sources grapes from vineyards that are located on a hilly ridge that travels from Acqui terme to Nizza Monferrato and are located at an altitude between 250 and 350 meters above sea level. The majority of the soils are characterized by light limestone marl while a minority has a strong sandy component. According to the winery, "the different microclimates affected by this selection of musts offer a complete photograph of Brachetto".

The Acquesi Brachetto DOC is a spumante produced using Metodo Martinotti and weighs in at only 6.5% alcohol. Despite that, this wine explodes with flavor -- raspberries in both the aroma and palate. The acidity dampens the sweetness and the entire character begs for funky aged cheeses. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Grape Spotlight: IGP Méditérranée Cellier des Princes Herose Rosé

IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée), is a quality category of French wine, positioned between Vin de France and Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC). The category superceded Vin de Pays in 2009.  --

IGP Méditérranée is an IGP title that covers wine produced in a large swath of the southeast coast of France. It incorporates all of Provence, parts of the Rhône Valley such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and even the island of Corsica. This designation provides an alternative geographical indicator without the stringent winemaking requirements and grape variety selections imposed by the area’s multiple AOC laws. 

Because of this large area, the terroir varies but is "broadly characterized by both the very southern edges of the Alps, and the warm, dry Mediterranean climate. Most vineyards can be found in the hills and valleys of the Alpine foothills as the higher altitude provides an excellent ripening situation with plentiful sunlight and cold nights. The Mistral wind from the north and sea breezes from the south often collide in spring and autumn, creating periods of heavy rainfall providing ample hydration for the vines throughout the growing season." (

As for wine styles, IGP Méditérranée is predominately rosé, made in the typical Provençal style using. Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsaut. One such producer of this rosé is Cellier des Princes, the only cooperative winery in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This winery was founded in 1925 and consists of 150 cooperative winegrowers located in the southern Rhône Valley. According to the winery, "they cover 580 hectares of vineyards on the exceptional terroirs of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the surrounding communes (Sarrians, Courthézon, Orange...). The cultivation methods are inspired by those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, so most of the Côtes du Rhône are hand-picked for optimal quality".

This week I received a sample bottle of their À l'Ombre des Parasols Hérosé - 2021 a blend of 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 15% Cinsault. The grapes for this "In the Shade of Parasols" were grown on mostly clay and siliceous soils and lightly pressed and fermented at low temperatures in stainless steel. Before bottling, the wine was aged an additional three months in stainless.

The wine exudes perfume - a vibrant floral and citrus character that masks the strawberry and raspberries that come through on the palate.  The dry character is excited by the bright acidity which carries the light flavors on a long journey.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

A Popup New York Cider Tasting at Cidercon 2022

One unexpected and memorable event at CiderCon 2022 was a popup cider tasting organized by the New York Cider Association.  This consisted of a handful of Empire State cider makers, mostly from the Hudson River Valley, pouring multiple ciders to attendees. This tasting not only showed off the array of different apple varieties favored in New York, but also a range of styles.  

I started with a familiar sight: Graft Cider and Pennings Farm Cidery pouring at the same station. Although Graft has not opened a tasting room, their Flagship ciders are widely available in the mid-Atlantic -> try their  Farm Flor Rustic Table Cider.  I've visited Pennings in the past, but until this tasting, didn't appreciate their single varietal ciders as I've always brought home their light & dry Simple Cider. I really enjoyed the English Yarlington Mill with its astringency and tart flavor. Two more English apples were the Cox's Orange Pippin -- which bursts with various flavors -- and the tart Harry Masters Jersey. Can't wait to return to Warwick, NY. 

Abandoned Hard Cider, from Woodstock, poured the most interesting ciders, some made from a single tree. They also bottle and can cider made from foraged apples. The bottled 2020 Foragers Reserve was fermented naturally and carries a fresh yet farmhouse feel, whereas the canned The Forager is finished in a barrel to promote a rounder structure. Abandoned also cans a Barrel-Aged cider that provides even more vanilla and spices to the fresh cider. 

For true farmhouse ciders, search for those produced by Elizabeth Ryan at Hudson Valley Farmhouse Cider.  The apples are grown from two Hudson Valley orchards and made using "classic European cider making techniques". This includes natural fermentation, unfiltered, and sometimes naturally effervescent.  Expect plenty of complexity and a pleasant funk in these ciders. 

Clarksburg Cider is located just outside of Buffalo and releases a plethora of ciders. Their Dry Hard Cider is very solid but I had a special affinity to their Savory Citrus which is made with a twist of lemon and a touch of sea salt.  A Gose cider. In addition, their Bourbon Barrel Cider is delicious where the bourbon notes do not overwhelm the apple flavors. 

Another non-Hudon River Valley cider producer was Lindner’s Cider located just east of Binghamton in Delaware County. They poured their 2021 Highlands made from Newtown Pippin, Winesap, and Gold Rush apples. This is a refreshing cider, slightly effervescent with some oak-induced notes and roundness from barrel finishing. 

The final, yet perhaps most interesting portfolio, was presented by Angry Orchard Hard Cider. The first was the single varietal Potter's Perfection - a medium bittersharp English apple. This was far from the semi-sweet ciders which Angry Orchard is known for and provides savory, tannic, and sharp acidic elements to the cider. They also produce a "manufactured" Ice Cider ($36) where the juice is left outside to freeze. This concentrated juice is then fermented producing a delicious dessert cider. Finally, Angry Orchard created a Pommeau (Pommeau of Walden - $48) where they blended eau de vie spirit with traditional French bittersweet apples and then aged three years in French oak. Fantastic.  I need to plan a trip to their Walden tasting room to purchase each one of these. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Richmond Cider Roundup During CiderCon 2022

CiderCon 2022 provided Richmond cideries a tremendous platform to showcase their ciders during several after-hour events. Augmenting the River City's vibrant craft beer scene are three cideries, Buskey Cider and Blue Bee Cider (located in the popular Scotts Addition neighborhood) and Bryant's Small Batch Cider -- situated just south of the State Capitol.  A few weeks ago I was able to visit Bryant's primary orchard tasting room in Nelson County and gained an appreciation of that operation. However, the first night of the conference was my first visit to both Scotts Addition cideries. 

Buskey Cider

Buskey seemed to be the center of attention at CiderCon hosting tasting events on consecutive nights. They started by pouring cider from almost a dozen other Virginia cideries including Albemarle CiderWorks and Old Town Cider.  This Winchester cidery's dry Albemarle Pippin cider is excellent and its sharp dry finish was very similar to Buskey's dry cider.  Both are very worthy everyday refreshing ciders.  CiderCon also allowed me to meet a few orchard growers who tutored me on the intricacies of the Black Twig apple which led to a more interesting tasting.

On the second night, I participated in a seminar presenting Buskey's barrel program.  This session consisted of a sampling of five barrel-finished ciders, all but one currently bottled. These ciders all started from Nelson County apples which were fermented dry then placed in different barrels they purchased through a broker. One of these was a Gin barrel and this imparts several botanicals into the cider's aroma leaving citrus and some coconut on the finish. The Brandy barrel overwhelmed the cider with too much apple fruit and was the least favorite. The Mezcal barrel imparted an abundant amount of smokiness, but in an enjoyable amount, which elevated this as one of my favorites. The Sherry was also appreciated because of the nuts and dried fig and raisin flavors that the cider absorbed. Finally, we were served their Scotch cider, straight from the holding tank and peat was everywhere.  This was a fascinating tasting both from the ciders and the opportunity to talk to the Buskey personnel and other attending cider makers. 

Blue Bee Cider
After apprenticing at Albemarle CiderWorks, Courtney Mailey headed to the city to open her own cider operation and plant an urban orchard. From that orchard and another in Nelson County, she creates some of the most delicious ciders in the Commonwealth.  Many of these are single varietal ciders that you can sample through a Manchester flight. This penta-flight starts with the Harrison, a colonial-era cider apple from the northeast where the full-body, tannic, and abundant acids match the tasting sheet.  The Hewe's Crab follows and this 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 a domesticated European apple. The funkiest of the group was the Spitzenburg, discovered in the late 1700s by an early Dutch settler of that name. It was found at the settlement of Esopus, on the Hudson River, in Ulster County, New York.  Lots of sweet and tart flavors but also some funk. The English Dabinett cider apple was the most interesting of these single varietals. The aroma is pure apple, like biting a kid's packaged lunch apples.  However, the flavor is bittersweet and tart. The final cider was the Golden Russet, a cider apple that arose in upstate New York in the 19th century, possibly derived from an English russet variety.  This cider showed a nice balance between tannins and acidity.

On a return trip, I had a glass of their Aragon 1904 which is one of Blue Bee's original ciders. This off-dry cider is made from a blend of modern and heirloom apples and is full of flavor, slightly tart - nice acids.

Bryant's Small Batch Cider
As much as I love Bryants'Brite Good dry brut cider, I used this visit to taste some of their flavored ciders.  For the conference, they made sure they had on tap a Banana Bread cider that tasted as advertised.  Not over the top, but noticeable walnuts and banana. I also went with a Coffee Chai cider for a little caffeine boost. The tea strongly presented itself and adversely overwhelmed the coffee.  I definitely preferred the version I sampled at their Nelson County barn. The Richmond taproom has another difference from the barn. With the paintings and other art, you feel like you are tasting in a Victorian parlor as opposed to a 1900s barn. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Loudoun History along the W&OD Railbed & The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards

Soon the weather will allow for longer bike rides along Virginia's W&OD Railbed and that means trips to its terminus at Purcellville.  A few miles away at Mile Marker 41, and at the intersection with Hamilton Station Road, is a historical marker designating the old Hamilton Station Train Depot. It reads: 

One of the oldest on the line, Hamilton's train station dates from 1870. It was not in the original plan. When the Alexandria, Loudoun & Hampshire Railway (later the Washington & Old Dominion) was established in the 1840s, its owners intended to head the tracks westward along present Route 9 (Charles Town Pike), across the Blue Ridge at Keyes Gap, and on to the Ohio Valley coal country.

The railroad reached Leesburg by 1860. Construction and operations ceased during the Civil War. By the time the railroad was up and running again, ownership had changed and so had the destination. The new route through western Loudoun County was slightly to the south of the original one, heading toward Snicker's Gap and sparking the growth of towns including Hamilton, Purcellville, Round Hill, and Bluemont. Unlike the other towns, however, Hamilton grew up along the automobile turnpike (Route 7) rather than along the railroad.
Historically, Loudoun County was part of the Fairfax Proprietary which King Charles II granted to seven noblemen in 1649. During the 1720s and 30s, Quakers settled in the area and formed the settlements which eventually became known as Waterford and Hamilton (Harmony).  Soon thereafter this region was incorporated into a new designated Fairfax County and in 1757 the Virginia House of Burgesses divided Fairfax County with the western portion named Loudoun. This name was based on John Campbell, the fourth earl of Loudoun, a Scottish nobleman who served as commander-in-chief for all British armed forces in North America and governor of Virginia from 1756 to 1759. 

The Hamilton Station depot served the town of Hamilton which was originally called Harmony in the late 1700s based on an estate built by Richard Tavenner his wife Ann Hatcher.  At the turn of the century, the town became known as Hamilton Store because of a store opened by Charles Bennett Hamilton. The population increased due to the Leesburg and Snickers Gap Turnpike and in 1835, the town's name was shortened and codified when John Quincy Adams approved a post office located in Hamilton's store and the town's name was recorded as Hamilton.  

After the Civil War, a steam railroad from Alexandria passed near Hamilton along the future route of the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad. Fleeing the summer humidity, tourists filtered into the town, and a 1+1⁄2-mile boardwalk was built to accommodate the new foot traffic. By 1900, the Town of Hamilton was Loudoun County's second-largest town. However, this growth was short-lived as the rise of the automobile slowed tourism traffic and a fire in 1926 consumed most of the town's central businesses. Today, Hamilton is known as a residential community.

In 1910, just before the automobile swept aside the Old Dominion Railroad, a dairy barn was built that a century later would house the tasting room for The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards.  This winery was founded by the Fialdini family and two of their most enlightened decisions were to restore the dairy barn and to hire acclaimed Michael Shaps as the winemaker.  Their wines are made from grapes grown on their small estate as well as other mature Virginia vineyards such as Carter's Mountain and Mount Juliet Vineyards. Here's the review of my visit posted on Instagram

I'm embarrassed to confess that yesterday was my first visit to The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards. The wines were what you would expect from Michael Shaps with the 2019 Cascina ($26) -- Seyval Blanc, Traminette, & Petit Manseng -- the table's favorite. I was also impressed with their 2018 Cabernet Franc ($24) and Petit Verdot ($28) for not only salvaging the rain-soaked grapes but producing very drinkable wines with them. The 1910 era barn is very cozy during the winter months and Ryan Jewel Music has a great country voice beyond his years. We look forward to returning in the spring to lounge on their patio and enjoy more wine and the surrounding views.