Saturday, May 25, 2024

Encounters with Vermouth

My Dear Wormwood, ....

Sipping absinthe or vermouth prompts me to mimic Uncle Screwtape when addressing his inexperienced nephew as I've grown fond of wormwood and the other aromatized herbs found in these beverages. Whereas the Artemisia absinthium herb is expected in absinthe, it shouldn't surprise consumers of its prevalence in vermouth.  Consider that the term "vermouth" translates from English to German as wermut.  Technically, Vermouth is a fortified wine that is aromatized -- meaning herbs, barks, citrus, or other ingredients are added for aroma and flavor -- and fortified with additional alcohol. 

The Kingdom of Savoy was a historical state that existed from 1416 to 1861 and was located in the western Alps, in what is now part of France, Italy, and Switzerland. the southern French part of the empire includes the Chambery region whereas the Italy section including Turin. Interestingly vermouth can be traced to both of these regions. Carpano was the very first vermouth brand, dating back to 1786 in Turin, Italy. In France, Noilly Prat in Marseillan was a dry style of vermouth, founded in 1813 whereas Dolin’s Vermouth de Chambéry was first identified as a distinct style in 1821. 

In modern times, the European Union states that vermouth, as well as other aromatized wines, must include at least 75% wine in the finished product to which alcohol has been added (fortified) and have an ABV of 14.5–22%. In particular, vermouth is a product "whose characteristic taste has been obtained by the use of appropriate substances of Artemisia species".  See ANNEX II

Vermouth comes in a range of sweetness levels, from extra dry (limited to a maximum sugar content of 30 grams per liter in the E.U.) through the semi-sweet blanc/blanco/bianco style, to sweet (minimum sugar content of 130 grams per liter in the E.U.).   This later style is traditionally an ingredient to the classic Manhattan and Negroni. The blanc is traditionally used in Martinis whereas dry vermouth leads to a Dry Martini. All can be served over ice for those accustomed to a bitter and herbaceous profile.  

My first consistent encounter with Vermouth began during the BevFluence Negroni book campaign where David T. Smith and Keli Rivers published dozens of recipes.  Then came an Italian vacation consuming more Negronis and dry or sweet vermouth on ice with a twist of lime, as well as various Amaros. I was hooked. 

One of my favorites is from Uruguay in the Vermut Flores Rosé NV Canelones where Basta Spirit uses Tannat as a base augmented by 27 botanicals, including flowers such as hops, chamomile, rose, and elderberry. It is extremely aromatic, with plenty of herbaceousness and forest spiciness - very gin-like.

At a recent Spain's Great Match trade tasting I became infatuated with the Casals Vermouth - the first Vermouth made with ancestral Catalan white grape varietals, enhanced with 20 Mediterranean botanicals from Penedés, Spain. A fantastic sipping rum from Torres Distillery and available by the glass at Del Mar Restaurant at the District Wharf. 

At this event I was also able to reacquaint myself with the sherry inspired vermouth from Jerez and Gonzalez Byass. The La Copa Vermouth starts with an Oloroso Fino sherry base (100% Palomino) that is created by oxidative aging. The wine is fortified early, suppressing the flor yeast which typically protects against oxidation. This vermouth is aromatized with wormwood, various herbs, dried fruit, and spices. The sweeter La Copa Rojo Vermouth is an eight-year-old blend of 75% Palomino and 25% Pedro Ximénez with traditional botanicals including wormwood, cinnamon, orange peel, and nutmeg. 

Closer to home in Middleburg Virginia, Mt. Defiance Distillery produces an interesting Sweet Vermouth that I realized very quickly was too unique to use in a Negroni. This vermouth starts with botanicals and spices infused into their Mt. Defiance Apple Brandy that they say "extracts flavors from herbs we grow ourselves and spices from around the world. This flavored base is then blended with barrel-aged brandy, Vidal Blanc wine, local honey, and caramel syrup. Not a traditional recipe so serve over ice and enjoy.  

And finally, I recently received samples of two vermouths from one of the historic homelands of the beverage -- 9diDANTE. The Purgatorio Extra Dry Vermouth di Torino Superiore IGP and Inferno Rosso Vermouth di Torino Superiore IGP  are produced at the historic Dr. M. Montanaro Distillery in Piedmont. Collaborators Alex Ouziel and Mario Baralis are one of few producers in the Turin region to use 100% DOC Piedmontese wines, made entirely from native grapes -- Dolcetto/Cortese for the red Inferno and Arneis for the extra dry Purgatorio .  Each vermouth contains 27 botanicals with the major contributors aligning to Dante's classical interpretation of levels of the afterlife.  I enjoyed the Inferno chilled and the Purgatorio over ice with either a twist of lime or orange. Expect a longer post n mid-June with thoughts from Mr. Ouziel 

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Grape Spotlight: Rheinhessen QbA Riesling & Art of Earth

The region has been cultivating grapes for wine production at least since ancient Roman occupation. It is also the home to the oldest surviving records of a German vineyard. Named Glöck, the vineyard was included in a deed for a church and vineyards gifted by Carloman – a duke of the Franks of the Carolingian family and the uncle of the first Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne – to the diocese of Würzburg in 742.  --

Rheinhessen is Germany's largest region for producing the quality wines of the Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) designations, with 26,860 hectares (66,370 acres) of vineyard as of 2019.  Continuing with, "Many of its most significant viticultural areas are favorably influenced by the Rhine river, which runs along its north and eastern borders. The Rhine, along with the Nahe river to the west and the Haardt mountains to its south, form a natural border. Rheinhessen covers an area south of Rheingau, north of Pfalz and east of Nahe, and is located within the Rhineland-Palatinate federal state.

Because of its size, Rheinhessen has variety of soil types and climatic influences. Many of the best-known viticultural areas are close to the Rhine, which forms a steeply embanked valley that is able to trap heat, while the river moderates temperature and reflects sunlight.

The Taunus hills, Odenwald, and Hunsrück Mountains shelter vineyards from harsh weather, giving Rheinhessen a mild climate compared to the rest Germany, with a relatively long growing season. Annual precipitation is also relatively low, roughly 500mm, making it one of the country's driest wine producing areas."

The Art of Earth Riesling 2021 ($11.99) is 100% Riesling grown in the Rheinhessen QbA and is available in the United States through Mack & Schuhle. This is an organic wine as signified by the Art of the Earth brand which is the importers "global search for the finest organic vineyards making wines within classic appellations and their traditional varietals for a pure expression of the region. Our wines are true to their origins and winemaking traditions without the use of pesticides or herbicides." These organically grown grapes originated in the slate soils of the Reinhessen and the wine was vinified in the dry, trocken style. Expect plenty of tropical fruit with a mineral driven acidity that races and lifts the fruit's sugar character. 

Friday, May 17, 2024

Cloudy Cocktails with Absente Absinthe Refined 55°

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) has been used for several millennia in traditional medicine to treat a range of ailments, including digestive issues, fever, and skin problems as the first recorded use of the herb dates back to 1552 B.C. in ancient Egypt.  Wormwood is the major ingredient in absinthe which originated in the 18th century in Switzerland when a "French doctor named Dr. Pierre Ordinaire created an all-purpose patent remedy in Couvet, Switzerland around 1792. This remedy was made with a combination of wormwood, anise, and other herbs.

Absinthe gained popularity in the 19th century, particularly in France, where it became known as "la fée verte" or the green fairy. It was often consumed in specialized absinthe bars, where it was served in a unique ritual involving a sugar cube, water, and a slotted spoon. The drink’s popularity became controversy as it was blamed for a range of social ills, including increased crime rates, poverty, and moral decay. In 1912, absinthe was banned in the United States, and it remained illegal until 2007.  Similar bans occurred in some Western European countries such as France. 

Technically speaking, the government never banned Absinthe but they banned thujone - the chemical compound in wormwood  - that sensationalized science at the time theorized caused seizures and hallucinations.  In October 2007 the TTB issued new guidelines that made Absinthe containing thujone legal as long as the bottle contained less than 10 parts per million of thujone. In there words, if it contained less than this amount it was considered “thujone free” and was therefore legal.

When France softened their Absinthe ban in 1988, Distilleries Domaines de Provence, was the first company to restart producing absinthe using a 160 year old recipe based on plants growing on the Lure mountain range.  This mountain lies between the Alps and the Mediterranean and thus benefits from a unique climate ideal for the development of  a diverse array of plants. According to the distillery, "The Alpes de Haute-Provence department is rich with some of the most abundant and varied flora in France, and is no doubt unique in the number of plant and botanical groups to be found there. ”  

Distilleries Domaines de Provence's Absente Absinthe was the first brand released in the U.S. after re-legalization and uses the original 160 year old French recipe which includes the noticeable wormwood but also star and green anise., lemon balm, mugwort, citrus, and peppermint. The traditional and historic method to serve Absente that was popular in the 1800s is to pour a couple of ounces of Absente in a glass, upon which a sugar-cube-topped absinthe spoon is placed. Then, and equal amount of cold water is dripped over the sugar. The water turns the absinthe cloudy -- called louche -- which allows the flavors of the spirit spring forth. 

That being said, cocktails are another satisfying use of absinthe and here are a trio that I tinkered with after receiving the Absente 55° case + Van Gogh spoon.  For the De La Louisiane I chose to make it a Cajun-Hungarian recipe honoring the Hungarian immigrants who became loggers around Albany, Louisiana and our friends at Wildcat Brothers Distilling. The distillery just released Cochon Sauvage -- a rhum agricole aged three years in 2nd use rye whiskey barrels (which replaces the rye whiskey) and good ol' Unicum Silva in place of the Bénédictine. And for the Green Cider, I used the Lonetree Cider  Authentic Dry Cider. The cider from British Columbia is a blend of old world cider apples, such as Belle de Boskoop and Bramley, fermented with crisp fresh table apples; MacIntosh, Spartan and Golden Delicious.  Santé.

De La Louisiane
1 part Absente55
1 part Rye Whiskey
1 part Bénédictine
2 parts Chilled Water
Peychaud's Aromatic bitters

Absinthe by Jimmy
1 part Absente55
2 parts Chilled Water
1 part Lime Juice
Aromatic bitters

Green Cider
1 part Absente55
2 parts Hard Cider
1 part Tart Cherry Juice
Lime wheel

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Spain's Great Match - Masterclass: Around Spain in 8 Glasses

Last week I attended Spain's Great Match held at the Del Mar Restaurant located in The District Wharf. The day long event started with a Masterclass: Around Spain in 8 Glasses led by Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein & Advanced Sommelier Lindsey Fern.  Why is Spanish viticulture important? Because Spain has the largest vineyard area of all the major vine-growing countries in the world and accounts for 13% of the World's vineyards. As a corollary, Spain is the third largest producer of wine globally and accounts for the 8th largest exporter to the U.S. by volume and 4th by value. Moreover, Spain is also home to over 400 individual grape varieties grown in over 70 D.O.s (Denominación de Origen) and two DOCas (Denominación de Origen Calificada) in Rioja and Priorat. The seminar focused on eight appellations through the eyes of one winery within each region. 

D.O. Cava
The Denominación de Origen was established in 1986 with 95% coming from within Penedès. The D.O. encompasses close to 94k acres of vineyard and over 6,100 growers. In 2022 the designation was more finely tuned with the creation of the Cava de Guarda (minimum of 9-months tirage) and Cava de Guarda Superior (minimum of 18-months tirage) designations. The leading grape varieties are Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.  Our sparkling wine sample was the Parés Balta Blanca Cusiné Organic Cava 2014 ($52) which showcases the age-ability of Cava  particularly after 80 months en tirage (secondary fermentation). The Xarel-lo heavy grapes were organically grown in central Penedès by the 3rd generation Cusiné family. 

D.O. Rías Baixas
This designation was created in 1988 and represents the cool and green northwest corner of Spain known as Galacia. It consists of five sub-regions with the Val do Salnés the historical focal point -- but each region is affected by the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. Albariño is the dominant grape and there are rising trends for more barrel aging and sparkling programs. We have covered D.O. Rías Baixas very often in the past so please read these posts for more in depth coverage.  The wine presented was an old friend, the Pazo Senorañs Colección Albariño 2020 ($25). The winery is located in the Val do Salnés and this wine shows the depth that Albariño is capable of showing particularly balanced with the racy minerality. 

D.O. Rueda
Established in 1989, Rueda is the oldest D.O. in Castilla y Leon and is located on high plains rising around 2,500 feet. The vines receive 2600 hours of sunshine annually and a large thermal diurnal change helping to maintain acidity and lengthen the growing season. Verdejo is the primarily grape and there are significant plantings of Sauvignon Blanc where a small percentage is often blended with Verdejo. The grape was considered a safety net in case Verdejo didn't flourish. Marques de Riscal pioneered this blend but we sampled the magnificent Marques de Riscal Organic Verdejo 2022 ($12.99) consisting solely of Verdejo. Lively tropical fruit. 

D.O. Jerez
This region was the second designation in Spain (1933) and is the southernmost wine region in Western Europe. It is known for sherry production and the white Albarizo (chalk) soils. This soil is poor in organic composition and highly porous but well suited for the Palomino Fino, Pedro Ximénez, and Moscatel grapes. In general sherry is produced when the grape must, called "yema", is fermented and fortified to 15.5% then enters a solera system where it is aged for various years. During this aging period, the wine undergoes biological aging under a layer of yeast called "flor". The Gonzales Byass Tio Pepe Fino NV Sherry ($22) is produced using this method  and the unique pungent aromas from the flor blend nicely with the almond notes characteristic of the Palomino grape.  Our visit to the winery is available here.

DOCa Rioja
This was the first Spanish region to receive the D.O. status in 1925 and the first to receive the DOCa designation in 1991.  The DOCa (Qualified Denomination of Origin in English) is the highest category in Spanish wine law, reserved for regions with above-average prices along with stringent quality controls. Rioja is the home of Tempranillo, the birthplace of the Spanish language, and consists of three zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Oriental. This is a hot Mediterranean climate influenced by high altitudes ranging from 1150 to 2100 feet. Besides Tempranillo, Viura, Malvasia Garnacha Blanca & Tinta, and Graciano are major players. We sampled the Finca Allende Rioja Tempranillo 2017 ($35) - a DOCa wine grown in Rioja Alta and naturally fermented and aged 14 months in Bordelais 225 liter barrels. Savory.

D.O. Jumilla
This designation was created back in 1966 and encompasses 61,755 acres located on a very high plateau (1,000 to 3,000 feet)) in southeastern Spain. The climate is hot and dry leading to abundant organic viticulture where the vines receive over 3,000 hours of sunshine a year. The soils are chalky and allows the vines to be planted ungrafted. Monastrell (Mourvèdre) is the signature grape and accounts for 77% of plantings. The grape was represented by the Juan Gil Silver Organic Monastrell 2021 ($18) - a certified organic wine made from 40+ year old vines. This is a delicious wine that I will be seeking for further sipping. 

DOCa Priorat
This designation was created in 2006 out of older designations and is completely encircled within DO Montsant. This is a high altitude region in Spain's northeast corner of Catalunya with a combination of Mediterranean and Continental influences. Soils are quartz and slate and known as llicorella. These conditions have lead to the "intense, full-bodied red wines; the classic Priorat wine is made from old-vine Garnacha and Samso/Cariñena, and has concentrated aromas of licorice, tar and brandied cherries". The Gratavinum 2pr Organic Priorat 2021 ($50) is a four grape blend dominated by Garnacha and then Carignan and is named after the Gratalops village in with the winery is located. There are twelve wine based villages within Priorat.  There is surprising softness to the biodynamic farmed wine with a pleasant lingering finish.  

D.O. Ribera del Duero
Since its inception of a D.O. in 1982, this region has grown from 24 wineries to over 300 today but still one third of the vines are 45+ years old and 10% are 80+ years old. These vines consist of  Viura, Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca & Tinto, Tempranillo, and Graciano. All excel in the string Continental climate featuring 40 degrees of diurnal temperature shifts -- partly due to the high altitudes (2,360 to 3,600 feet).  The Pago de Anguix Costalara 2019 ($40)  is made from 100% Tempranillo grown at 2,626 feet in elevation. Initial intensity leads to  lush tannins.