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.