Friday, April 28, 2023

Grape Spotlight: Neusiedlersee Zweigelt

The creation of the Zweigelt variety in the 1920s, a crossing between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, only really gained recognition after the Second World War. Nowadays, Zweigelt is the most widespread red wine variety in Austria and can be found in suitable sites in all wine-producing regions. -- Austrian Wine 

The finest examples hail from Burgenland – particularly the Neusiedlersee. --

Zweigelt was developed by Dr. Friedrich "Fritz" Zweigelt in 1922 and the grape inherited desirable characteristics from both of its parents. Saint-Laurent provides bright, Pinot-like cherry aromas and the ability to create silky, elegant wines; whereas, Blaufrankisch provides spiciness and acidity. Since both parents are capable of creating wines with deep, rich purple-crimson coloring, it is no surprise that Zweigelt wines tend to be very richly colored.

In the vineyard Zweigelt buds later than Saint-Laurent and ripens earlier than Blaufrankisch and thus provides an insurance policy in the vineyard. While the other two varieties are susceptible to harsh weather conditions (spring frost and autumn rain respectively), Zweigelt vines typically dodge these seasonal threats. Zweigelt also has the advantage of being a high-yielding variety, further contributing to its popularity with winegrowers.

Burgenland is a large wine-producing region on Austria's eastern border that occupies a narrow strip of land that runs along the Danube River. On its eastern side is the border with Hungary and to the west lies the most eastern foothills of the Alps. Burgenland is home to four Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC) appellations: from north to south; Neusiedlersee, Leithaberg, Mittelburgenland, and Eisenberg. Within each of these zones, any wines which do not conform to the particular classification are labeled with the Burgenland appellation. 


Although Zweigelt is planted in all Austrian wine regions, it is in Burgenland where it thrives.  This is particularly true on the eastern side of Neusiedlersee Lake -- the Neusiedlersee DAC -- where the region's sunny, continental summers meet the Lake's microclimate. The lake stores summer heat from the Pannonian Plain, an expansive, warm area that covers much of Hungary and eastern Austria, effectively lengthening the ripening season into autumn. In essence, the Neusiedlersee DAC is topographically more aligned with Hungary than with much of the rest of Austria.  The soils within Neusiedlersee itself are varied, ranging from the low-lying, botrytis-inducing foggy lakeshore slopes to the drier, sandy-loam and gravel inclines beyond.  In total, the DAC covers nearly 6,700 hectares (16,500 acres) of vineyards, mostly centered on the northern and eastern shores of the lake.

The Neusiedlersee DAC has been recognized since the 2012 vintage and is synonymous with fruity, harmonious red Zweigelt wines. These wines must be at least 12 percent ABV and can be aged in either oak barrels or stainless steel. The designation of origin also includes a Reserve category. To qualify for the DAC Reserve title for Zweigelt, the wine must be 100 percent Zweigelt, must attain 13 percent ABV, and at annual tasting panels show extra depth and power, and aromas of oak aging.

Andau is a city and area lying steps from the Hungarian border and experiences the hottest summers in Austria.  The soil is dominated by "gravel with iron components and a few sand layers; a very warm soil type with good water drainage capacity. The rocks are able to store the warmth during the day and give it off during the night allowing the berries to grow quicker and more homogenous. The high content of iron in the ground gives the wines a fine spiciness." 

Domaine Andau is a cooperative of 90 families located in Burgenland that farms 660 ha of vineyards within the Neusiedlersee. The cooperative was founded in 1959, a difficult economic time in Austrian history, but coming off a remarkable yield the previous year. The families banded together in order to produce and sell this harvest. The domaine has grown into one of the largest cooperatives in Austria supporting numerous small family businesses.  I received a package of their wines through a Hopwine fair and the 2019 Zweigelt (€9.50) is a classic zweigelt. It has a powerful red cherry aroma that transitions to a darker plum and mildly spicy interior. The finish shows soft tannins but a lengthy acidic tail. 

Zantho was formed at the "beginning of the millennium by Josef Umathum, a successful winemaker from Frauenkirchen, and oenologist Wolfgang Peck, together with chosen members from the cooperative Domaine Andau". This subset of the cooperative cultivates 80 ha of vines in the Neusiedlersee. The name Zantho is mentioned in the oldest dated document from 1487, which refers to the founding of Andau, as Andau is mentioned as Anthwaw or in Old Magyar Zantho (s).  Their 2021 Zweigelt (€8.90) was made through hand-harvesting, with no herbicide use, and fermented in stainless steel tanks while aged for 10-12 additional months in stainless steel. The wine is very fresh with an extremely strong cherry aroma, chewy plums and red cherries, surprising tannins, and fresh acids. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Nationals Park Craft Beverage Tour

I noticed that the Nationals had a Josiah Gray bobblehead promotion and thought that was a good incentive to attend a game and while I'm there visit the several craft beverage establishments that surround the stadium. As the Nationals continue to improve, I see myself attending both more games and taking more trips to these breweries.

Valor Brewpub
I started the Nationals Park craft beverage tour by taking the Metro to Union Market and walking in the stadium's direction to Valor Brewpub. This brewery is located across the street from the Marine Barracks and thus honors this military tradition. I enjoyed a flight consisting of the Chief Smoke Rauchbier, Czeck Pivo, Barracks Row Lager, and Pollywog Porter. If you love chocolate Porters, like me, you will enjoy this one. The Rauchbier was a nice compliment to the Porter and the two lagers, very refreshing and flavorful. Solid beers.

Bluejack Brewery
Bluejack Brewery has consistently been a favorite location near Nats Park and before today's game, I was able to get a seat at the bar to enjoy a pint of the Love Cats German Pilsner.  Just a fantastic beer. I also heard that their distribution is expanding both within the DMV area but also to Atlanta. Will seek them out during our Nats-Braves road trip in June. 

District Winery
District Winery is just a block south of BlueJacket Brewery and right on the Anacostia River. This winery-restaurant produces wine from grapes sourced throughout the world with my favorite being the refreshingly acidic Riesling from grapes grown in the Finger Lakes. Another wine to try is the Chenin Blanc from the Clarksburg AVA in California.

 Solace Navy Yard Outpost
Our last stop on this short Nationals pregame tour was to the relatively new Solace Navy Yard Outpost, literally just across Potomac Avenue from the stadium and a short walk from District Winery along the boardwalk. We are big fans of Solace and frequent visitors to their Falls Church Outpost and I had to douse the desire to order my go-to Artificial Light German Pilsner. Instead, I chose the Vibrant Light Gose, a slightly sour and tart melding of blackberries and raspberries. Weather permitting, I recommend sipping outside while watching the sailboats on the Anacostia.

Atlas Brew Works
As soon as I entered the stadium, the Nationals announced that the game was under a rain delay, and looking at the forecast and talking to ushers -- we could expect a two-hour delay. Having the bobblehead in hand, I decided to spend this time at the Atlas Brew Works Half Street location in front of the stadium. Although the brewery was packed, I was able to find a corner and stay on theme with the Ballpark Pilsner.  This might be my first stop next game. Cheers.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Herbal Liqueurs: Zwack Unicum Szilva

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!")

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.  

I recently received Zwack Unicum Szilva as a gift along with the traditional Zwack Unicum. It's nice to do a comparative tasting. The Unicum Plum is made from the distillation and maceration of over 40 herbs and spices -- just like the traditional Unicum. Then dried plums are matured with the Unicom in used oak barrels.  The result is a milder liqueur than the traditional, slightly sweeter and savory, and with an easier, but lasting, finish. Excellent.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

A Craft Beverage Road Trip along Route 340 in the Shenandoah Valley

On a trip home from Waynesboro, I decided to ditch the tractor-trailer-laden Route 81 and ventured north on the more peaceful and bucolic Route 340.  This allowed me to follow portions of both the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail and the Shenandoah Spirits Trail while passing through the towns of Elkton, Shenandoah, and Luray. In total, I stopped at eight establishments, most for the first time, and returned home with enough beverages to carry me through the rest of the month. 

Basic City Beer Company
The Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail runs from the Harrisonburg area south to Lexington and Rockbridge County. Waynesboro is basically halfway between the two borders and is home to a favorite brewery Basic City Beer Co. and #thecompasscbf stop number 45. The brewery is housed in the former Virginia Metalcrafters building and is a destination itself with pizza and various arcade games (shuffleboard, pinball, etc), plus a large selection of beer. I usually stock up on two staples the Our Daily Pils German Pilsner and whatever Grin's Casket is available. On this visit, it was the Cherry Quad aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels with almonds. Can't wait to open during a firepit night.

Elkton Brewing Company
Remaining on the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail, we headed north on Rt 340 to Elkton -- a small town situated between Massanutten Mountain and Skyline Drive -- and settled by German and Scots-Irish immigrants similar to the founders of Elkton Brewing (#thecompasscbf stop number 46). The Napotnik family opened the brewery in a building originally built in 1890 to house the Elkton Milling Company. They brew a large array of beers and had 14 on tap on our arrival. Our flight consisted of the Nekid Crik Kolsch, Blonde Bear Blonde Ale, Uncommon Elk California Common, and the BoysenTuley Pie Boysenberry + Graham Cracker + Vanilla GOSE / Sour. I can't imagine the thought process of Colonel Gos Tuley, who was responsible for killing the last known indigenous Virginia Elk in 1855. The Uncommon Elk was the favorite and worked well with the Bayou Gumbo available at the food truck.

Chateau Virginia
After leaving Elkton Brewing I noticed a Winery sign a block away and stopped to discover Chateau Virginia - a new Virginia winery that officially just opened in April. The winery is producing wine from Shenandoah grapes that hopefully will be available in the near future. Winemaker and founder Andrew Starkey studied and worked for two years in Champagne specifically at Crezancy. Andrew's sister Amanda is the resident sommelier. She also studied in France and was the sommelier at Pippen Hill Winery and The Inn at Little Washington. The winery also offers a wide selection of wines from around the world starting close to home with Williamsburg Winery but also with a special emphasis on Bordeaux, Beaujolais, Piemonte Italy, and Mendoza.

Wisteria Farm and Vineyard
From Elkton, we continued North on Rt 340 towards Luray, diverging onto Business 340 and Wisteria Farm and Vineyard. The farm is situated in the Page Valley enclosed by the Massenutten range to the west and Skyline Drive to the east and still within the Shenandoah Valley proper. And is fully part of the Shenandoah Spirits Trail. Not only do they produce wine from their estate grapes, but have a small flock of natural-colored Romney sheep as well as free-roaming chickens. I indulged in a flight consisting of the dry Seyval ($21), Persephone dry rose ($24), Chambourcin ($24), and Ashtaroot Petnat ($23). The Seyval was rather satisfying and I purchased a bottle of the Persephone primarily because of its unique flavor profile where the blend includes some Norton.

River Hill Wine and Spirits
This was our second visit to River Hill Wine and Spirits, the first precipitated after purchasing a bottle of their Corn Whiskey and Bourbon at an ABC store. This is a very small operation, located just minutes outside of Luray. On this visit, I discovered they just released a Rye Whiskey -- aged 12 months in oak. It's quite different from the spicier versions coming out of Kentucky - grassy and earthy, with a little chalk, dark chocolate, and licorice. Loads of flavors.

Blue Shepherd Spirits
We reached a milestone last weekend, visiting our 50th craft beverage establishment in 2023. This was Blue Shepherd Spirits, a distillery that opened in August 2022, very close to the caverns. Their three main spirits are vodka, gin, and rum with the mash for the first two based on local corn and sugar. The New World Gin has a citrus profile that is complimented by the juniper. The Dog Days of Summer Rum (90 proof) is distilled using both molasses and cane juice and infused with various spices. Not overly spiced however and has a nice balance with the traditional rum flavor. We purchased a bottle to use with our iiCiNG Pina Colada flavoring. Unfortunately, we couldn't purchase a bottle of our favorite spirit, their 6-month-aged Whiskey because of limited production. This is a complex whiskey made from a 70% corn, 20% rye, and 10% malted barley mash. Plenty of vanilla, caramel, honey, and a little rye spice.

Hawksbill Brewing Co.
Our final stop in downtown Luray was Hawksbill Brewing Co., a six-year-old brewery that specifically targets using Page County grown ingredients. This was a bustling brewery with lots of beer drinkers with their dogs enjoying an interesting array of beer. My flight consisted of The Haymaker Cream Ale (a few cans came home with us), Bearfence Black Lager, Farmer's Brown Ale, and the Brown Cow Nitro Stout. Solid beers.

Castle Vineyards
It was appropriate that we started our trip in Waynesboro -- not far from Fishersville and Barren Ridge Vineyards -- and ended it at Castle Vineyards, a satellite tasting room for that winery. Actually, it's a joint venture between the descendants of Ralph Castle Davis (thus Castle Vineyards), a local businessman and farmer. R. Steven Davis (Uncle) and Jeremy A. McCoy (nephew) planted Viognier within their working cattle farm and partnered with Barren Ridge to host their wines surrounded by excellent views of the Shenandoah Valley and Blie Ridge Mountains. After a tasting of most of their portfolio, we returned home with our three favorites starting with the delicious 2020 Cabernet Franc. Two white blends also caught our fancy, first, the 2021 Harmony blends Petit Manseng, Viognier, Vidal Blanc, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Imagine the aroma in that bottle. Second was the 2021 Tinkling Spring, a blend of Riesling, Traminette, and Vidal -- more strong aromas and tropical fruit and saline.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Grape Spotlight: Etyek-Buda Szentesi Tihany Kék

Since I purchased six Szentesi Pince wines from the Taste Hungary wine club Szentesi’s Grapes from the Past shipment we will be moving rapidly from Kadarka to the other forgotten Hungarian grape varieties -- repeating many of the same geographic and winery information.

The Etyek-Buda PDO has many unique characteristics regarding Hungarian wine regions. It is very small (1,652 hectares of vineyards) and the closest to Budapest -- located just over the Buda Hills and extending southwest to Lake Velence (Hungary’s second largest lake) near the former royal city Szekesfehervar and southwest to the slopes of the Gerecse hills.  The climate here is influenced not by one, but by three geographical features; the Alfold plains to the south, Lake Balaton to the west, and the mountain winds from the Carpathians to the north. These winds help make this one of the coldest climate regions in Hungary with an average temperature of 9.5° to 10.5° C (49° to 51° F).  The soils are predominately limestone and these rolling hills have historically been planted with international varieties used in sparkling wine production: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Yes, even Sauvignon Blanc is used to produce Asti-like sparklers. Törley, Hungary’s largest sparkling wine producer, has been producing sparkling wine from Etyek-Buda grapes since 1882.  

Szentesi Pince is another producer utilizing grapes from this area and more importantly, József Szentesi has been instrumental in re-introducing older grape varieties lost during the phylloxera scourge in the late 19th century back to the region. In 1988, "after studying 19th-century viticultural and oenological works, he decided to plant 10 forgotten white and blue grape varieties. He requested canes from the Viticulture and Wine Research Institute of the University of Pécs and began propagating and planting the varieties around Lake Velence".  Today this endeavor has expanded to 30 grape varieties planted on 14 hectares of vines. According to the winery, and common sense suggests, that "experimenting with nearly 30 varieties is extremely challenging since in each vintage you have to hit the right harvest time exactly thirty times, you have to process thirty distinct grapes, and you have to deal with thirty different wines separately".

Tihany Kék is one of these forgotten grapes and according to Taste Hungary, "there is, perhaps, just one other winemaker in Hungary (which means, also, in the whole world), who grows the Tihany Kék variety. Of all the ancient Hungarian grape varieties that winemaker József Szentesi has resurrected, this is one of the most exciting. Tihany Kék once was amongst the most popular varieties in Hungary, until phylloxera hit in the late 1800s and caused many varieties to disappear. Szentesi has given this variety a chance to survive, after planting vines from cuttings he discovered in a research institute." Tihanyi Kék is a mid-ripening variety, which makes a light wine with good structure. It has a unique spiciness and is not comparable to any other grape.

The Szentesi Tihany Kék 2020 ($29.90) is from vines that Szentesi planted in 1988, on soil that is partly volcanic, with loess, granite, limestone, andesite, and quartz. It is also produced using natural fermentation, 4 months of oak aging, and bottled unfiltered.   This is a light-bodied wine, full of red fruit flavors combined with an interesting mixture of spices and vegetal features. I totally catch the slight Worcester sauce finish.