Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Week of Terlato Wines Traveling Through Napa, Sonoma, Sicily, & Tuscany

Last week I enjoyed four wines delivered to my door by Terlato Wines, the wine importer, producer and marketer who's global portfolio consists of more than 40 brands. These wines represented well known regions such as Napa, Sonoma's Russian River Valley, Tuscany, plus a second Italian region - Sicily. Here are my notes. Cheers

Markham Vineyards 2014 Napa Valley Merlot ($26) Solid wine and great value. Cherries and leather, structure, noticeable tannins.

Hanna Winery 2015 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($20) Closer to New Zealand than California, with it's creamy lemongrass, minor tropical fruits, and refreshing acidity.

Cusumano Alta Mora Rosso 2014 ($24) The most fascinating wine of the foursome, from Sicily's Mt. Etna appellation and 100% Nerello Mascalese. The indigenous grapes are harvested from the slopes of an active volcano 4,000 feet in elevation.  Similar to Nebbiolo, the thick skin grape are known for string tannins and enhanced acidity. And this wine features these elements as it comes across extremely dry and minerally - a food pairing wine with dominate tannins and acids.

Cecchi Classico Classico 2014 ($22) Another great value wine that we covered in more detail during 300 years of Chianti Classico with Cecchi Family Estate.  Sangiovese that starts with a refreshing fruit forward character.which transitions to a well rounded, structured, and lingering finish. Perhaps from the acids.  A complete bargain at this SRP.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Learning about Troon Vineyard & Oregon's Applegate Valley on #Winestudio

The Willamette Valley and it's sub-regions seems to receive the bulk of attention when discussing Oregon wine, but after this month's #WineStudio, southern Oregon should receive equal treatment. Specifically, I am referring to the Applegate Valley AVA where Troon Vineyard is one of eighteen wineries operating in this sub-AVA within the Rogue Valley AVA.

Located approximately 50 miles from the California border and 90 miles from the Pacific, the Applegate Valley possesses a moderate climate. It is enclosed by the Siskiyou Mountains with an opening to the Pacific that provides cooling breezes and a large diurnal shift (50 degrees or more). Soils are predominately granite - similar to Beaujolais, Alsace and the Languedoc. And because of several diverse micro-climates there are over 70 grape varieties planted -- many originating from southern France and the Italian coasts and islands.

Modern viticulture didn't return to the Applegate Valley until 1972 when Dick Troon planted his vineyard and Frank Wisnovsky planted grapes while restoring Valley View Winery. (Valley View was one of the first wineries in Oregon -- opening in 1854.)  After starting Troon Vineyard in 1972,  Dick Troon eventually sold the property to the Martin family who are still the proprietors. Recently they hired wine expert, social media maverick, and talented blogger Craig Camp as their General Manager. During November's #WineStudio, Craig virtually walked us through the Applegate Valley, Troon's vineyards, and the wine-making philosophy of Steve Hall.

According to Craig, "winemaking at Troon is straightforward". The grapes are harvested and field sorted by a full time vineyard crew. All grapes are then crushed by foot and fermented outside by natural indigenous yeasts with only hand punch downs. Apparently foot crushing is actually gentler than a press. Whites see an additional natural fermentation in mature French Oak. And Camp emphasized that "there are no acids, sugar or enzymes added to any of the wines".  The results are impressive based on the three wines we sampled.

2014 Troon Black Label Vermentino, Applegate Valley ($29)  Rests on its lees for 12 months in oak and co-fermented with 4.5% Early Muscat. Enhanced aromatics and texture are readily apparent from this approach. There is also a noticeable saline or mineral character and bitter almonds.  Finishes with refreshing acids. Very nicely done.

2014 Troon Blue Label Sangiovese, Rogue Valley ($29) Co-fermented with 8% Syrah and the anti-Super Tuscan. The wine is light bodied, but complex and flavorful body staring with red cherries and transitioning to bacon. Yes, bacon; although that sensation mellowed over time. The subtle tannins contribute to a very smooth finish.

2014 Troon Black Label M*T, Applegate Valley ($50) Co-fermented Malbec 40% and Tannat 60% that is a similar blend to some Cahors and Madiran wines. Craig believes that the structure enhancing Tannat may be the premier grape variety in the valley whereas the Malbec provides velvety qualities. Tannat usually imparts aggressive tannins, but these are muted both by the Malbec and the granite soils that encourage more rounded tannins.  This wine is a home run. Dense black fruit, structure and smooth but noticeable tannins.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Five Wines From Garnacha Denominaciones de Origens

Grenache is commonly known as the dominant southern Rhone grape in that region's delicious GSM blends. Yet, going by its Spanish name Garnacha, it is very much a Mediterranean grape. The grape's rise to fame originated in the Kingdom of Aragon in northeast Spain. (Whether Garnacha was born there or in Sardinian is being debated.)  As powdery mildew spread through Europe, the grapes resistance to that disease increased it's planting. Into Languedoc, Rhone, Italy, even Australia, and more recently in the United States. But the grape is still king in Spain or at least the third most planted grape variety in that country.  Here are five from Denominaciones de Origen Garnacha-focused regions. In these regions, Garnacha, whether red or white, must comprise 85% of the wine.

Celler Batea Vall Major White Garnacha ($11) - Grenache comes in both a white and red version. Terra Alta is located just east of Aragon in Catalonia. Terra Alta means "High Land" and refers to the high altitude terraces where Vall Major’s Garnacha Blanca vineyards are planted. We are talking 1,200-2,000 ft above sea level. The soil is mostly limestone leading to a saline stone fruit character and lingering but subtle acids.

El Circo Garnacha 2015 ($10) Located in the Cariñena Denomination of Origin - the oldest in Aragon as well as in Europe (1932). The region is situated west of Terra Alta and Barcelona - about three hours by car. The soils are very rocky as limestone and clay dominate. The vineyards reside between 1,150-2,625 ft in a more continental climate with hot summers and very cold winters. This wine starts with juicy red fruit, some earthiness, and ends fresh and smooth. Light tannins.

Care Tinto Roble Garnacha ($11) After fermentation, the estate grapes are aged four months in oak barriques. The wine has some toastiness that is almost overshadowed by the fruit forward start. The finish is rustic, clean, and smooth.

Terrai OVG 2015 ($12) Made from grapes harvested from the best lots from old vine Garnacha - over 45 years old. No oak so this wine is fruit throughout: forward, middle, and finish. There is also trace amounts of minerality and a mildly spicy & tannic finish.

Las Moradas Initio 2010 ($12) Las Moradas is located in the sub-region of San Martín de Valdeiglesias southeast of Madrid. Las Moradas vineyards are at a high altitude of about 2,850 feet in the foothills of the Sierra de Gredos. The wine is fermented with natural yeast and aged in French oak barrels for 14 months. There is a black licorice aroma, candied cherries, medium bodied, earthy smooth with lingering tannins. By far my favorite of the group.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Pre-Game at Morgantown's Chestnut Brew Works

Well before the WVU Mountaineers losing to the Oklahoma Sooners left us dispirited, our tailgate started brilliantly at Morgantown's Chestnut Brew Works. This three year old brewery is located in historic South Park and provides a wide range of styles brewed by Bill Rittenour. The brewery's name results from Rittenour graduate work (he holds a Ph.D. in Fungal Biology) studying the chestnut tree and how to resurrect the tree from it's demise due to a deadly fungal infection. Bill was on hand to pour my flight of seven beers and explain the reasoning behind each offering. And the beers were more than solid, they were delicious. We were in a cheerful, buoyant, optimistic mood heading to Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium...

  • Smoke Hole Lager Rauchbier - love this style, light bacon smoke flavor, smooth tail
  • Highwater Roselle Blonde Ale - refreshing even in the hold, snowy weather
  • Your Best Hoption - 100 IBUs comes across rather smoothly
  • South Park Porter - delicious sweet choclate and smooth finish
  • Halleck Pale Ale - their best seller, flavorful and a bit more hop aromatics and bite than others
  • Nate's Nut Brown Ale - fits the style, light malty and smoke
  • Mo-Bel Prize Dark Belgium - IMO the weakest link,

Monday, November 21, 2016

'Tis the Season for Pinot

It appears that this is the season for Pinot Noir.  I base that claim partly off the increased number of these wines sent to me with the explanation that Pinot Noir is an excellent Thanksgiving option. Now, I'm not much of a foodie so I can't really validate that statement or share any wine pairings suggestions. But, the Autumn season may be slightly favorable as the weather cools and we shift from white wine focused consumption to red wine. In any event, here are three brands that I received samples from recently and most importantly all are worth considering.

Villa Maria Estate Winery, New Zealand
Villa Maria Estate Winery is one of the largest in a country that specializes in Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and to a lesser extent Pinot Gris. Villa Maria was established in 1961 and was the first 1st NZ wine company to go cork-free (2001). So you can thank them for the rest of the country adopting the stelvin closure. According to the winery: "After many years of experimentation, we’ve found that serving Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris at Thanksgiving is the perfect pairing".

2015 Private Bin Pinot Noir, Marlborough ($18) The grapes were harvested from vineyards in the Awatere and Wairau valleys and are aged in barrels that are toasted while being made. This leads to a distinctive smoky character for this wine that distinguishes it from more fruit forward Pinot Noirs. There are also herbaceous characters front and center with sour cherries towards tail. Bright acids intermingle with smooth tannins.

2015 Private Bin Pinot Gris East Coast ($18) The grapes were harvested from different vineyard sites across three regions: Gisborne, Marlborough, Hawkes Bay. This is a fresh, aromatic wine, initially overwhelmingly citrus, then more pears and minerals. Vibrant acids balance the off dry sweetness.

Lazy Creek Vineyards, Anderson Valley California
Lazy Creek Vineyards is a 40+ year old winery located in California's Anderson Valley AVA, which itself is located 100 miles north of San Francisco in coastal Mendocino County.  Since 2008 the winery has been owned by John and Mary Beth Chandler - owners of Sonoma's Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery. Winemaker Christy Ackerman focuses exclusively on Pinot Noir for both wineries and says that the Anderson Valley provides a climate well suited for Pinot Noir. Specifically, the diurnal temperature shifts allows the grapes to retain acids and the various soil types build character.

2015 Lazy Creek Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir ($22) Uses 100% Anderson Valley Pinot Noir that are lightly pressed (no saignée) that enhances aromatics and tannins. The wine stars with raspberries, then cherries, leading to some saline, creamy texture and a fresh finish.

2014 Lazy Creek Vineyards Lazy Day Pinot Noir ($35) "The 'Lazy Day' Pinot Noir comes from Anderson Valley in Mendocino County where warm, sunny days and cool, foggy mornings and nights create the ideal microclimate for producing this wine. This is a seductively attractive wine, very easy drinking with  black cherries, some cola, and a dangerously smooth finish.

2014 Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($38) The grapes are harvested and field sorted from three ranches in the Anderson Valley. This is a dark bodied wine with a deep cherry flavor, a definite cola character, and light spice. The acids help generate a long finish.

2014 Lazy Creek Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir ($58) Straight off the estate, this a fabulous wine. It is hefty with dark cherries, texture, body, and generous acids.

Left Coast Cellars, Willamette Valley Oregon
We've discussed Left Coast Cellars several times in the past year and are always impressed with their unique Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris offerings. Located on the 45th parallel - similar to Burgundy - the winery produces estate driven wine from their various estate vineyards. These vineyards benefit from cool Pacific Ocean breezes driven into the Willamette Valley that cool the grapes during hot summer days.

2015 Willamette Valley Queen Bee Bubbly ($36) In addition to growing grapes, Left Coast Cellars houses dozens of honeybee hives. This sparkling wine is made using fermented white Pinot Noir juice with the honey fueling the secondary fermentation. In another break with the traditional champagne methodoise is that the wine is never disgorged and sold with a crown cap. Instead the yeast is encapsulated within beads in the bottom of the bottle - leaving the wine completely clear. The wine itself offers many different profiles: apples, butterscotch, minerality, some honey, and plenty of refreshing effervescence. A unique and delicious sparkler.

2015 Orchards Pinot Gris ($18) The Orchards is the winery's prime estate site for Pinot Gris that was once a productive apple, pear, and cherry orchards. This is a fresh wine, great acids with plenty of lemon (but not NZ lemongrass) and green apple flavors. Drink now and often.

2014 Cali's Cuvee Pinot Noir ($24) "Named after the family’s left-handed daughter, Cali, this Cuvée (blend) is 100% Dijon, Pommard and Wädenswil clone Pinot Noir". Most of the grapes are sourced from the Right Bank vineyard described below. This is a lighter styled, easy drinking Pinot that is similar to seductiveness as the Lazy Creek Vineyards Lazy Day. It starts with ripe red fruit and ends with pleasant baking spices. Be careful, this will be gone soon after opening.

2014 Right Bank Pinot Noir ($42) "The Right Bank is a 12 acre hilltop vineyard that consists entirely of Pommard clone Pinot Noir". The herbaceousness is similar to the Villa Maria, but this wine has a more intense and deeper flavor. Sour cherries, some chocolate, a long black pepper finish. What's not to like.

Friday, November 18, 2016

What is Prosecco? Or the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG?

What is Prosecco? Is it a region, a wine, or a grape variety? Well, before 2009 this term described all three. Pretty confusing, right? As a result, in 2009 several changes were made. First, the Prosecco DOC was created which covers a vast area spanning two regions, nine provinces, and 556 townships. It is geographically located north of Venice in parts of Veneto and Friuli. At the same time the historical birthplace of Prosecco, Conegliano Valdobbiadene, was granted DOCG status. This is a region of steep hillsides located between the villages of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. And finally, the name of the primary grape variety used in making Prosecco wine was changed from Prosecco to Glera - a historical synonym.

I learned these facts as well as dozens more while attending a seminar presented by US Ambassador of Prosecco DOCG Alan Tardi on the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG. I borrow liberally here from Mr. Tardi's presentation.

The word Prosecco is most likely Slovenian in origin "derived from prosek, a dialectic term for 'path cut through the woods'". In Croatia a sweet passito wine called Prošek has been made for thousands of years - although the EU has now banned that usage. I guess it's name is too similar to the subject of this post which was named after the village Prosecco located near Trieste. The first known mention of Prosecco occurred in 1593 when an English traveler named Fynes Moryson wrote "[In] Histria (Trieste) proper grows the wine Pucinum, now called Prosecho, much celebrated by Pliny". Pucinum refers an ancient wine drunk by the Romans.

The modern history of Prosecco began in 1876 when enologist Giovanni Battista Cerletti founded the Scuola Enologico in Conegliano. However the wine's popularity accelerated with improved production techniques for secondary fermentation starting with Federico Martinotti patenting a method using large pressurized temperature-controlled receptacles. And Eugène Charmat's adoption of the autoclave in secondary fermentation soon followed. Post WWII this autoclave became "widely adopted throughout the area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene and the modern sparkling wine industry was born". Over time this historical region lost focus as more producers outside the region began producing Prosecco sparkling wine. Thus the 2009 reforms.

Today the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG comprises 15 hillside towns with thousands of small growers supplying 183 wineries. The Dolomite Mountains protect the area on the north while the Piave River valley and a flat plain to the Adriatic Sea bring sea breezes and a semi-marine climate.  The vines are planted on south facing sloops and receive abundant rain which drains quickly through the loose soil or dry from the maritime breezes.

There are three styles of wine made in this DOCG: Spumante (95% of production), Frizzante, and Tranquillo (Still). And there are three categories of residual sugar: Dry (17-32 grams of residual sugar), Extra-Dry (12-17 grams), and Brut (0-12 grams). A fourth category, Extra Brut, was just adopted and will incorporate wines from 0-6 grams.

Other requirements include that the grapes in a Prosecco wine must be at least 85% Glera with the remaining 15% from other authorized grape varieties. Secondary fermentation can be achieved via the autoclave method or in the bottle ("Rifermentato in Bottiglia"). And finally labeling. Superiore refers to only Spumante wines made within the ConVal DOCG. Millesimato indicates a wine made from a single vintage (85% minimum). And Rive indicates a Prosecco Superiore made entirely of grapes from one of the designated Rive (villages).

Here are the wines we tasted during the seminar. Check out those price points and all are highly recommended:

Val d’Oca: Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry ($14)

San Feletto: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry ($17)

Bellenda: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry Miraval ($16)

Vettori: Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut ($16)

Frassinelli: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut ($12 )

De Faveri: Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG G e G Millesimato 2015 ($31)

La Tordera: Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut  "Otreval" Zero zuccheri Rive di Guia 2015 ($20)

Le Colture: Valdobbiadene DOCG Superiore di Cartizze Dry ($35)

Le Vigne di Alice: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG Frizzante rifermentato in bottiglia "Col Fondo" ($20)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Quad from Miner Family Winery

I recently received four wines from Miner Family Winery, the well known winery located along the Silverado Trail in Napa's Oakville. They source fruit from primarily Napa Valley but will branch out to other well know regions in the Golden State. Like Garys’ Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. In this tasting, most of the fruit was harvested from the Stagecoach Vineyard. This site is situated at 1,500 feet along a stagecoach trail from the 1800s with the vines planted between large rocks and boulders.

2012 Miner Family Winery Wild Yeast Chardonnay ($50.00) This barrel fermented and ML induced wine is made from grapes sourced from vineyards in Carneros and Stagecoach Vineyards. As you can expect this is a full bodied wine, both buttery and velvety but not over the top. Pears and sweet spices on the palate. Usually not my style but there's enough acidity to produce a fresh wine.

2014 Miner Family Winery Garys’ Pinot Noir ($60.00) This is another heavily oaked (15 months) wine from Garys’ Vineyard in Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. Even with the oak, this is a light fresh wine, raspberries and white peppers, and a fresh, lingering, long tail.

2013 Stagecoach Miner Family Winery Merlot ($50.00) From the Stagecoach Vineyard and includes 11% Cabernet Franc that was aged 21 months in French oak. This is a big Merlot, feels very Cab-ish. Lush and juicy with a structured and highly tannic finish.

2013 Stagecoach Miner Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon ($75.00) Includes 6% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc and spent 21 months in French oak. This wine is meant to age but is ready now. It's not a giant Napa bomb, but lighter and dustier, nice acids, and appropriate tannins for the body. Expensive, but a well made wine.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Dave Phinney's Locations French, Spanish, & Argentinian Wines

Locations Wines are the result of an organic brainstorming session when Dave Phinney imagined the possibility of creating a French wine across all the French appellations. Would that blend represent France?  What about other countries? Thus the Locations brand was born: "to produce a wine that pays homage to their home land without compromise and without boundaries".  The Locations wines are very unique; they are "crafted to represent the essence of a country or place and are non-appellation, non-varietal and non-vintage".  Now, that's a some creative thinking. Below are three Locations wines I received recently.

F – French Red Wine ($18.99)  A blend of Grenache, Syrah, and assorted Bordeaux varietals from an assortment of growers from the Rhone, Roussillon, and Bordeaux.  Fruit centric and jammy wine which transitions quickly to a slightly tannic and lingering tail.

E – Spanish Red Wine ($18.99) A blend of Grenache/Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell, and Carignan/Cariñena from low-yielding old vines in the Priorat, Jumilla, Toro, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero. Dark fruit, subtle spices, bits of chocolate, solid texture, and soft tannins. My favorite of the trio.

AR – Argentinian Red Wine ($17.99) A Blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Uco Valley in Mendoza. The Malbec provides depth and intensity and the Cabernet Sauvignon increased complexity. Deep, dark plum fruit flavors, spicy and structured, with a notable tannic finish.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Wine Dinner with Rioja's CVNE Winery

Recently I had the opportunity to join fellow wine bloggers and representatives from CVNE (Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España) for a fantastic wine dinner at DC's Barcelona Restaurant. The parent company operates bodegas in two of Rioja's three subregions: Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa - aka Basque wine country. CVNE is actually pronounced Coo-nay because way back in 1879 for their inaugural vintage, the labels were misprinted as CUNE. But Brothers Eusebio and Raimundo Real de Asúa decided to keep the name for an easier pronunciation.

During the dinner, International Director Joan Pujol and USA Area Manager Gloria Zapatero relayed other stories about this historic winery including Spain's oldest white wine Monopole. First produced in 1915, the wine was first made using the Viura grape plus other non-Rioja Spanish fruit. The wine became 100% Viura in the 1980s when the Rioja DOC was institutionalized and is now known - at least for me - for its savory, stoney, and creamy orange blossom character. In another luck of fate, and elderly American customer visited the winery not long ago, sampled the Monopole, and remarked that it wasn't what he had remembered. The owner stepped into his private cellar pulled out a 1979 vintage and both the owner and customer where pleased with the aged wine. And thus the concept for the Cune Monopole Clasico was born. The winery un-retired the former winemaker who was the only person with knowledge of the blend and process. And in a few weeks this wine will be available in the United States.

Courtesy of CVNE
CVNE is the original winery founded by Eusebio and Raimundo Real de Asúa in 1879 in Haro, Rioja Alta.  The cellars were designed by famed French architect Aleixandre Gustave Eiffel and provides a large open area for easy cask maintenance.

The Imperial brand began in the 1920's in Rioja Alta the westernmost part of Rioja's three subregions. The vineyards in Villalba, Briones and Montalvo are influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and contain deposits of iron, salts, limestone and clay. The name Imperial comes from the special bottling for the English market known as an ‘Imperial Pint’ (half a liter). The wines for the Imperial label are aged in the CVNE Eiffel designed cellar. Mr. Pujol noted that wines from Rioja Alta are generally more acidic which favors longer aging potential.

The Viña Real brand was also launched in the 1920s, this time in Rioja Alavesa - located in Basque country. The vineyards extend from the Sierra de Cantabria  towards the Ebro river basin which protect the area from harsher weather formed in the Atlantic. The soil combines with calcareous and clay-based soils. Mr. Pujol noted that there area produces riper wines and this winery is best known for their Crianza wines.

Contino became the first Rioja château in 1973 and is located in the Rioja Alavesa. "The history of the property dates from the 16th century, and is reflected in its name. The contino was the officer in charge of a guard corps of a hundred soldiers who protected the royal family de contino (continuously) from the times of the Catholic Monarchs onwards."  The grapes used in the Contino brand are exclusively from the 62 hectares Laserna vineyards which are protected by the Cerro de la Mesa hills.

Here are the wines we enjoyed during the evening. Cheers.

Cune Monopole 2015 ($15) 100% Viura - the most widely planted white grape variety in Rioja. The oldest white wine brand of Spain, produced since 1915.  This wine is one smooth operator: laid back, self-assured, stony and creamy orange blossoms, with just enough acids to make you notice.

Cune Monopole Clásico 2014 ($25) Viura & other grape varieties.  Fermented in stainless steel then rests on lees in 300l and 500l oak barrels for eight months. Very complex with multiple flavors - all of the spectrum.  Fresh finish from solid acidity.

Vina Real Crianza 2011 ($15) 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuela. This is a light bodied wine, bright cherries, a dusty structure and finishes smooth and vibrant. An outstanding value for an everyday wine.

Vina Real Reserva 2010 ($45) 90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, Grenache and Mazuelo. Aged one year in oak and two years in bottle before release. Deep color and flavors, round and full, dried fruit, and very smooth.

Imperial Reserva 2009 ($45) 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo. The wine is macerated and primary fermented in oak with the malolatic fermentation proceeding in concrete. The wine is juicy smooth, with excellent structure, vanilla and spices, and a long semi-tannic finish.

Imperial Gran Reserva 2009 ($55) 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo.Aging in cask for three years and in bottle for two years before release. Only wine from the best barrels were reserved for the Gran Reserva which shows in the wine with it's excellent structure, hints of earth, and long smooth finish. Fantastic

Contino Reserva 2009 ($48) 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo & Garnacha. After being opened all day the wine tasted of  figs and raisins, but remained fresh.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Holistic Farm Winery in Montgomery County Maryland: Rocklands Farm

On June 27, 1863 Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and 5,000 cavalrymen began crossing the Potomac River at Rowser's Ford in Seneca, Montgomery County Maryland. His immediate destination was Rockville and wagon trains to capture with a long term destination into Pennsylvania - launching the Gettysburg Campaign. But in Seneca his troops burned boats, damaged the locks on the C&O canal, and helped themselves to the produce and meat from the rich farmland that is now the Agricultural Reserve of Montgomery County.

One of these farms was most likely the predecessor of Rocklands Farm - a farm winery practicing "holistic" agriculture. The farm raises chickens, hogs, cattle, sheep, and goats as well as growing numerous types of vegetables and fruit - which includes 8 acres of vines.  These vineyards consist of diverse grape varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Chambourcin, Norton, and Concord for reds and Chardonnay, Chardonel, Gruner Veltliner, and Semillon for whites. The winemaker is TJ Fleming - a middle school science teacher who helped start the winery while also studying Enology and Viticulture through UC Davis.

On our visit on a late Saturday afternoon the winery was crowded with visitors walking the farm, lounging about, or participating in a wedding. However the tasting bar was wide open to sample their eight wines available that day. In general these wines were well made and represented the varietals they encapsulated. And the gentlemen pouring the wines was extremely informed regarding the grape varieties. For the whites the semi-dry Honey Blossom Vidal Blanc ($19) was spot on floral, citrusy and acidic. The dry White Oak Chardonnay Blend ($24) was very interesting, shades of slightly oaked Chardonnay but also hints of 16% Chardonel, 8% Vidal Blanc, and 4% Grüner Veltliner. I brought a bottle to a family function that evening and it quickly disappeared. The five reds ranged from a light bodied, but spicy Farmhouse Chambourcin Blend ($23) and a unique off-dry Medley Sparkling Chambourcin ($23) to a much darker and stronger Montevideo Petit Verdot Blend ($35). And the tasting concludes with a clean dessert wine in the Bramble ($25) which consists of Blackberries, Chambourcin, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Rocklands Farm is a destination winery in the sense that there is no reason to leave - spend the day walking the farm, enjoying the brick oven pizza and wine. And as always, theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App will show you the way. Cheers.

Friday, November 4, 2016

A New Exploration of Australian Wine with Two Hands Wine & #WineStudio

I must confess that I've not sampled Australian wine for a number of years. This changed with the commencement of October's Protocol Wine Studio's #WineStudio series featuring Michael Twelftree and his Two Hands Winery. Not sure the reason for the exclusion of Austrian wine from my cellar, perhaps because there are so many other local and global wine options. Or perhaps I mentally framed Australian reds as fruit forward, jammy wines made for the international market. Well, this #WineStudio session has sure changed that perception; in brief these wines are elegant, structured, and provide soft or firm tannins, depth, and balance.

A more detailed rendition of the winery's founding can be found on their website, but for an overview, the winery was founded in 1999 with the goal to "make the best possible Shiraz-based wines from prized growing regions throughout Australia". Twelftree leveraged his wine contacts in the U.S. and the U.K. to launch the brand where it critical acclaim allowed it to grow where Robert Parker named Two Hands "the finest negociant south of the equator". Today the winery is owned by Twelftree and Tim Hower, whose investments have allowed the winery to acquire additional estate vineyards.

Two Hands categorizes their portfolio into five series: Flagship Series, Single Vineyard, Garden, Picture, and Twelftree.  The #WineStudio session focused on the Picture Series, Garden Series, Flagship Series while learning more about the Twelftree, the winemaker - Ben Perkins, Australian Shiraz, and the Barossa Valley & McLaren Vale wine regions.  The Barossa Valley is located in South Australia - northeast of Adelaide. The region was first settled by German immigrants who tried vinifying Riesling before they realized the climate was to warm for this cold climate grape. Over time Shiraz were deemed more suitable for the continental climate with old-vine Shiraz a contemporary cult classic. The valley does host several distinct micro-climates with wider diurnal temperature shifts. Riesling is still planted, but at higher, cooler vineyards and Grenache and Mourvedre have become serious players. The McLaren Vale wine region is located south of Barossa and enjoys a seasonal, Mediterranean climate. Dry reds are king with Shiraz the emperor, followed by Grenache, Mourvedre, and Cabernet Sauvignon - somewhat similar to Barossa.

Here are the wines that we sampled from these regions. In general they we fantastic with the Ares a masterpiece.

The Picture Series - Serious wines with irreverent labeling
"Every wine in the Picture Series has its own inspiration, our own take on popular culture. With some old school Polaroid imagery by friend and photographer Don Brice and a quirky back label descriptor, the aim is to bring a smile to your face when you pick up the bottle, reminding you that wines should be approachable and of course… fun."
Gnarly Dudes 2014 Shiraz ($34, 14%) - The fruit is sourced from mature vineyards from the Barossa’s western ranges and showcases the gnarly vines of historic Shiraz. Aged for 12 months in French oak, which 15% was new, and the remainder in one to six year old barrels . Rich, dark plums throughout with pepper and mint perhaps. Firm but short finish. 
Sexy Beast 2015 McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon ($34, 14%) - Aged 15% new French oak with remainder in one to five year old French oak barrels. The nose jumps out of the bottle. Leads to textured dark fruit, earth and tobacco, and finishes with tight tannins. Let this one breathe or age.  
Angels Share 2014 McLaren Vale Shiraz ($34, 14%) - Aged for 12 months in 6% new French oak and the remainder in one to six year old French and American oak. Layered fruit with rounded structure with slight white peppers and leather. Solid acids. Decanted but tannins could use more breathing or aging.   

The Flagship Series - Represents the very finest varietal selections from each vintage.
"With a strong commitment to the philosophy of ‘quality without compromise’, Two Hands Wines use a strict classification process to ensure that only the best barrels each vintage are deemed worthy of being bottled as a Two Hands product."

Ares 2012 Barossa Valley Shiraz ($140, 14.8%) - Produced to showcase Shiraz. Aged 24 months in new and one year old French oak and then re-tasted continually to determine the best barrels. A luscious and silky smooth wine with layers of dark berry fruit and chocolate.  Plenty of texture and depth with easy tannins. 
The Flagship Series - Our super premium range of Shiraz from six of the finest Shiraz growing regions in Australia, showcasing regionalism of Australian Shiraz.
"Two Hands source premium fruit from six of the finest Shiraz growing regions in Australia, from which we produce the Garden Series."
Bella’s Garden 2014 Barossa Valley Shiraz ($69, 13.5%) - Aged for 18 months in French oak with 17% new and the remainder in older oak. A blend of their best Shiraz barrels from across the Barossa Valley region. This label’s color reflects the red soils of the Barossa’s western ranges where all the best Two Hands vineyards are located.  The wine and fruit are dark black, a noticble chewy depth, and a spicy and firm tannic tail. Very nice.  
Lily’s Garden 2014 McLaren Vale Shiraz ($69, 14.5%) - Aged for 18 months in 6% new French oak and the remainder in two to six year old American and French oak. Represents the best barrels from their McLaren Vale estates. The label’s blue color takes inspiration from McLaren Vale’s close proximity to the sea.  Lighter color and depth than Bella's Garden but smoother tannins and a clear transition from smokey spices to mocha. A fantastic wine. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Wine, Beer, & Cider Near Great Country Farms - Bluemont Virginia

Have you ever been dragged to a pumpkin patch or fall festival?  Pretty often right?  Well check out Great Country Farms in Bluemont Virginia. You may have heard about the farm's relationship to Bluemont Vineyard and have already seen the spectacular view from that mountain top winery.  Yet there is more. A furlong down the rode lies the newly opened Dirt Farm Brewing with similar views and plenty of craft beer. They need the volume based on the crowd I joined. In downtown Bluemont, Wild Hare Cider offers unique hard ciders from apples grown throughout the Winchester area. And across Route 7, Twin Oaks Tavern Winery has a cozy setting.

Last weekend I dropped the family off at the farm and ventured straight to Wild Hare. The small tasting room was filled, but turnover moved quickly; Blu and I were at the tasting bar in short time. Yes, dogs are allowed inside. There were six ciders available for tasting and I chose a flight of 3 for $12. I started with the Hatch ($15.50), their classic dry cider that is light and clean with a slightly tart and acidic finish. The Hopscotch ($16) is a dry cider fermented with ale yeast and then dry hopped with Citra hops. You can image the aroma that greeted me. This is a very nice cider. Love the style. The final cider was the Windrush ($16), another dry cider - this time aged with wood staves. The treatment is minimalist -yes it's there but not overwhelming.  And I brought home a bottle of their Coppertail ($21.75), an heirloom cider aged in used Kentucky bourbon barrels. Looking forward to sharing this one and will update this post at that time. In the meantime, this cider house is highly recommenced.

We then drove closer to the farm and up the steep mountain road to the farm brewery -  Dirt Farm Brewing.  Parking was somewhat difficult as I had to navigate through three parking assistants but somehow was directed back to a spot next to the brewery. The grounds are spacious, which are needed, as I suspect there were close to 500 people mingling on the grounds. I parked Blu at a picnic bench close to the entrance and stood in line to grab a pint. Not flights today, just straight ordering.  I chose the Beeracrat Election Golden Ale, their lowest abv offering at 4.3%.  It was light but surprisingly flavorful with a slightly sweet tail. Refreshing in the unseasonably hot day.  My companions at the communal table were content with the Boots Off IPA - a rather low abv option at 6.5%. I lingered longer than expected because their musical playlist and mountain views were outstanding. Did I mention that an eagle soared over the valley. Yea. Great company too.

After collecting the family we headed straight out the farm exit and up to Bluemont Vineyard.  As expected, the winery was crowded but we found a table quickly and order our favorite from this facility, their Viognier The Goat ($30) and Tasters Platter. I also noticed that they now offer wine flights, three reds or whites and a five glass Farmhand flight. Great idea, don't waste time sampling, just grab the flight and enjoy the live music and view. In hindsight I should have ordered the white flight of Albarino, Petit Manseng, and Vidal Blanc. Next time. And remember, theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App can guide to all these locations. Cheers.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Hiking and Maryland Beer at Sugarloaf Mountain

Normally after a nice climb up Sugarloaf Mountain we descend and head directly to one of the top wineries in Maryland, Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard. However, this past weekend we decided to investigate a nearby year-old brewery: Mad Science Brewing Company.

theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App showed us that the brewery is located north of the mountain on a route to Frederick. It is located in Thanksgiving Farm; grows Columbus/Zeus, Nugget, Centennial, Cascade, and Magnum hops; and is as nano as possible. On our visit there were four beers available: Helles Belles lager, Rye-Sin Amber IPA, Antidote Pale Ale, and Hemophilia, an Imperial Stout on draft and nitro. This was very tasty, even refreshing after the hike. More refreshing was the Helles Belles. This is a fantastic beer, light but flavorful with the right amount of minerality and hops. Well done. And a fellow hiker raved about the Antidote so there are good things coming out of this nano brewery.

After a round, hunger set in so we headed into Frederick to the long running restaurant-brewpub Barley & Hops. In fact, the brewery has been operating since 1999 producing a wide range of beer styles.  Over bratwurst I chose a sampler of the Catoctin Clear Blonde Lager, Vinz Clortho Gose, Gore'd Pumpkin Duppel, and Drunk Dial Porter.  The lager was very good, flavorful, just not the minerality and hop balance as the Mad Science version. The gose was very interesting, tart and smokey. The last two were my favorites with the pumpkin duppel showcasing the squash and ,alt as opposed to the dreaded holiday flavors. And the porter was spot on. Nicely done and a highly recommended spot to eat. Cheers.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

#VABreweryChallenge #49 - Sweetwater Tavern Centreville

We've been off the #VABreweryChallenge for too long and stopped of at local brewpub chain Sweetwater Tavern Centreville for an early Sunday dinner. There are two other Sweetwater Taverns, one in Merrifield and the other in Sterling, with the trio sharing the same beer menus. The food is quite nice and reliable across all three with the beer decent, but not exceptional. The Naked River Light is a lightly hopped Pilsner suitable as a lawnmower beer. On the other hand their Iron Horse Lager has more flavor and hop profile and more satisfying on my palate. The Great American Restaurants Pale Ale was my favorite - a solid offering. The Great American Restaurants Oktoberfest was as expected with suitable maltiness - I just don't care for the style. And finally, their Ghost Town Pumpkin Ale is not bad, spices added to the glass rim not the brew. I like that serving method. Cheers.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Garofalo Artisan Liqueurs - Unique Liqueurs from Virginia

During our recent excursion into Winchester we missed a gem in Garofalo Artisan Liqueurs, a local spirits maker of various liqueurs such as "Night Life" Coffee Liqueur, Ginger Lime Liqueur, Tart Cherry Liqueur, Francesca Inzero Walnut Liqueur, and Father Ewing Liqueur. The distillery is a proud member of the Shenandoah Spirits Trail and was opened in 2013 by Dick Garofalo at the age of 73. Shows this plenty of life left after retirement. His signature liqueur is the Francesca Inzero Walnut Liqueur (named after his "bootlegging" grandmother) and made from walnuts originally harvested from a walnut tree near the house. Got to try this one next.

However, two liqueurs that I did indulge in are the "Night Life" Coffee Liqueur and Tart Cherry Liqueur, both purchased at my local ABC store for $24 and $28 respectively after taxes. The coffee liqueur is very smooth with an espresso backbone and subtle cocoa at the tail. In order to obtain this flavor profile, Garofalo uses ground coffee from locally-based Cabin Creek Roasters and cocoa nibs. The tart cherry liquor was my favorite of the two - reminding me of a drier version of the Hungarian Bonbon Meggy. There's plenty of tart, sour cherry flavors and just a hint of sweetness. My type of liqueur. Cheers and remember to use theCompass to visit the distillery.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Vertical - The Sequel to Sideways

On Saturday October 15th, Rex Pickett and Loose Gravel Press LLC will officially release Vertical: Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail, the sequel to the wildly popular Sideways movie and book. In a major plot twist Miles Raymond is now famous after the release of the film version to his novel "Shameless" and Jack is down on his luck, divorced and jobless. As you guessed Shameless is Sideways, the story of two friends on a bachelor party weekend in Santa Barbara Wine Country wine country.  How much Miles' fictional success follows Pickett's actual life story would be an interesting discussion.

Like the original, Vertical's backbone is wine country.  This adventure involves Miles and Jack transporting his wheelchair-bound mother Phyllis to Wisconsin through Oregon's Willamette Valley where Miles is Master of Ceremonies at the International Pinot Festival. Phyllis has suffered a stroke and wants to ditch her assisted living facility to live with her sister. Their journey starts with a brief return trip to Beullton, where the reader is introduced to Miles intoxication with celebrity life as well as the self-induced comic situations that the duo encounter.

After a stressful trip, they eventually arrive in Oregon and the reader is introduced to the Willamette Valley wine scene - but only casually. Instead, the real focus of the book has become apparent, and that is relationships - those between friends, caregivers, and most importantly between a stoke impaired mother and son.  The "life is stranger than fiction" escapades keeps the readers attention, but it's the story of how Miles adapts to these situations and his out of control personal life that is most relevant.  For that reason, Vertical is not only an enjoyable read, but also a bit introspective - particularly the finale. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How Do You Whiskey? I, Whiskey: The Human Spirit

I stumbled upon this video honoring the human connections that are created through whiskey and it's rich heritage. The video was produced by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Passing Lane Films and features Virginia distilleries Catoctin Creek Distillery and Copper Fox Distillery as well as DC's whiskey destination Jack Rose Dining Saloon. From the producers:
Whiskey is a distinct spirit—it is science, chance, time, risk, ingenuity, love, intensity—all in a glass, when it’s done right. And like America itself, whiskey is equally known and appreciated for its diversity and individual expression. The story of whiskey is a story of entrepreneurs, scientists, and bootleggers and the whiskey they produce—a rebel spirit renowned for its individuality and colorful history. I, Whiskey is the story of the human spirit, ingenuity, and the forces that have shaped whiskey and society for ages.
I love the quote at the end by Scottish poet Robert Burns, "Freedom and Whiskey Go Together". Cheers and make sure you also view our interview with Catoctin Creek's Scott Harris.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Snooth Presents a Lodi Virtual Wine Tasting

 On the heals of a very successful 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference hosted by Lodi Winegrape Commission, Snooth continued the Lodi momentum by hosting a virtual tasting of four Lodi wines. For a recap,  once synonymous with old vine Zinfandel, the Lodi AVA currently grows over 100 different grape varieties and was named Wine Enthusiast's 2015 "Wine Region of the Year".  The region is located between the San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada Mountains and is known for it's hot dry days and an evening breeze that commences on schedule every evening providing a noticeable diurnal shift in temperature. Perfect for retaining grape acidity. Lodi is home to approximately 65 wineries -- many multi-generational family operations.  During the Snooth virtual tasting Master Sommelier/Snoother Tim Gaiser interviewed Stuart Spencer, Program Manager, Lodi Winegrape Commission & Owner/Winemaker, St. Amant Winery, and Michael McCay, Vineyard Manager and Owner/Winemaker, McCay Cellars to discuses the diversity of the region through these four wines.

Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards 2015 Belle Blanc Lodi White Blend  ($26) - (45% Grenache Blanc, 45% Roussanne, 10% Viognier). Acquiesce Winery is Lodi’s only dedicated white wine winery. This wine is made in the classic Châteauneuf-du-Pape Southern Rhône style from cuttings acquired through Tablas Creek Vineyard (originally from Château de Beaucastel Winery). The wine is simple floral, savory, stone fruit, light citrus, long fresh finish. Perhaps not that simple.

McCay Cellars 2013 Lodi Grenache ($35). I devoured this wine during the WBC16 winemaker dinner.   It is lighter bodied, with red cherry flavors and an herbal center; finishes with killer acid. A fantastic wine.

LangeTwins Winery & Vineyards 2014 Lodi Nero d’Avola ($20). Another #WBC16 favorite from during the speed tasting, this 5th generation farm family shows more Lodi diversity by growing grapes normally found in Sicily. The wine is very bright and fresh with dark cherries, mint, and a very smooth finish.  This is your afternoon table wine.

Klinker Brick Winery 2013 Lodi Farrah Syrah ($20). This wine spent 15 months in French oak providing a chalky, spicy, and smoky character. The wine finishes with very structured tannins. Nicely done and at this price, quite the value.

Friday, September 30, 2016

300 years of Chianti Classico with Cecchi Family Estate

On September 24, 1716 - over 300 years ago - the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de' Medici, issued a declaration creating the boundaries in which Chianti wine could be created. This area included the three villages of the Lega del Chianti (Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, and Radda in Chianti) as well as the village of Greve and a 3.2-kilometre-long stretch (2-mile) of hillside north of Greve near Spedaluzzoi. This designation persisted until 1932 when the Chianti designation was enlarged and and divided into seven sub-areas: Classico, Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano and Rùfina. The Classico designation refers to the historical area now celebrating it's 300 year anniversary.

Currently, the blend for Chianti Classico designated wines must comprise at least 80% Sangiovese, with the remainder comprised of other approved red grape varieties such as Canaiolo, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. The use of white grape varieties such as Malvasia and Trebbiano have been prohibited in Chianti Classico since 2006. Chianti Classico must also have a minimum alcohol level of at least 12% with a minimum of 7 months aging in oak, while Chianti Classico's labeled riserva must be aged at least 24 months at the winery, with a minimum alcohol level of at least 12.5%. You may recognize Chianti Classico wines by the Black Rooster (Gallo Nero) - the official symbol of Chianti Classico since the 1930s, but the image dates back to 14th century Florence.

Last week I was able to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Chianti Classico with Andrea Cecchi from Tuscany's Cecchi Family Estate. While dining at Ristorante La Perla, our party listened to Andrea discuss the region and his winery while enjoying several of the winery's Chianti Classico and Maremma Toscana wines.  The Chianti winery is located in Castellino in Chianti, one of four municipalities entirely within the historical boundaries.  Andrea and his brother Cesare are 4th generation winemakers as the winery has been operating since 1893.  His Father expanded their estate to include vineyards in Maremma Toscana, which will be the focus of a future post. As for the Chianti Classico estate, expect a total wine and food experience when visiting with an onsite restaurant and vineyard tours. Here are three wines you could sample. Cheers to Cecchi and Chianti Classico.

2014 Chianti Classico ($20.99): 90% Sangiovese that starts with a refreshing fruit forward character.which transitions to a well rounded, structured, and lingering finish. Perhaps from the acids.  A complete bargain at this SRP.

2013 Chianti Classico RSV ($40.99): 90-10 ratio between Sangiovese and Canaiolo and Colorino; a wine which the winery has been producing since 1987. This is a bigger wine, with tobacco on the nose, structured, full bodied, yet an easy finish even with more noticeable tannins.

2011 Coevo ($105.99): Coevo translates to contemporary and this wine honors Andrea and Cesare's father by utilizing the best lots from the Chianti and Maremma Toscana estates. The wine is always 50% Sangiovese with the 2011 model including Cabernet Sauvignon (Chianti Classico) and Merlot and Petit Verdot from Maremma. The individual varietals are aged 18 months in oak, blended, then aged an additional 6 months in oak. The winery then holds back the bottled wine for one year before release. That's a heavy investment but it pays off with a tremendous wine. This wine is powerful - cut and blended right through the fat in my wild boar entree. Even with this intensity there's an elegance to the wine giving it that wow factor.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Spirits Review: Copper Barrel Distillery Moonshine Using Cane and Grain

During our annual summer trip to Ocracoke I try to bring home a couple North Carolina spirits available at the island's ABC store. One was the Troy & Sons Platinum Corn Whiskey  and the other was the Copper Barrel Distillery White Lightning Moonshine - available in a 375 ml bottle ($14). This distillery is in Wilksboro, situated half way between Boone and Winston-Salem, which they refer to as the "Moonshine Capital of America". Master Distiller Buck Nance has developed a recipe for this whiskey that is quite unique; it's not just 100% corn, but includes locally grown rye and corn as well as cane sugar. The water source is the Crystalline-Rock Aquifer. The result is a very interested 'shine, complex in flavor, with a low to medium burn. The rye provides a little spice and the corn and cane a sweet profile to dampen the 96 proof. Can't wait to visit during my next wine trip to the Yadkin Valley or Merlefest. Cheers.