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.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Quick Visit to Temecula Valley Wine Country

During our craft beer centric stay in San Diego, we did allocate one afternoon to visit wine country - choosing Temecula Valley or Southern California's Wine Country as they refer to themselves. This wine region is located 90 minutes south of Los Angeles and 60 minutes north of San Diego off I-15. The community boasts 35 wineries - all situated due east of Old Town Temecula - and grows over 50 grape varieties. The first modern winery, Callaway Vineyard & Winery, opened in 1974 and the region gained its AVA designation in 2004. The landscape is very scenic, dry rolling hills interspersed with lush green vineyards. And the wineries are tightly packed making a wine excursion quite simple to navigate. And as always, theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App helps.

Our first stop was at South Coast Winery, prehaps the most prolific producer in the region. The winery was established in 2003 and since then has been awarded the Best California State Winery four times (2016 the latest). Besides the extravagant facility - it includes a resort and spa - they produce wine from at least 20 grape varieties including many Rhone such as Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne. These three are blended into a delicious GVR and also bottled as 100% varietals. Excellent wines. Another tasty white was the 2015 California Verdelho, with its lemon profile, velvety texture, and fresh acids; it reminded of the new Nationals star Trea Turner - light and speedy, but possesses surprising power. As for reds you can remain in Portugal with a solid Touriga, move to Bordeaux with several offerings or return to the Rhone with my favorite, their 2014 Grenache or 2014 Mourvedre both $18. Great values for two delicious wines. South Coast also includes a nice portfolio of sparkling wines so as you can see from the range of offerings, a must visit.

The next stop was to Falkner Winery, primarily because they had answered a tweet I had posted on suggestions. The winery is much smaller, but includes a restaurant, and provides a grand view of the surrounding countryside. The winery opened in 2000 and specializes in a smaller portfolio of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Merlot, a Meritage, and the "Amante" Tuscan proprietary blend. Prices are much higher than at South Coast, most likely from smaller volumes. The "Amante" ($55) is a big Super Tuscan plenty of leather, tobacco, and fruit. Their off-dry 2015 Risqué Riesling was a group favorite and the wine we enjoyed while studying the scenery on their deck.

Our last stop was Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyard because our hosts wanted us to sample their specialty Almond Sparkling Wine and chocolate. The Wilson family opened this winery in 1998 and currently run a large operation. This was the most populated of the three with a small wait at the tasting bar. The most interesting wine was the 2014 Variant Series White Cabernet ($26), which was both fully textured and lively. For reds, Syrah and Petite Sirah were the leaders particularly the 2012 Family Reserve Petite Sirah ($65). Pricey yes, but also big and bad. They also provide a range of low cost sparkling wines like the Almond which seemed rather popular. Take a glass and walk down to the shallow creek and try to find the crawfish.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

#WineStudio -- The Many Moods of Malbec With Achaval-Ferrer

September brings Argentina's Achaval-Ferrer to the Protocol Wine Studio #WineStudio with a heavy diet of Malbec from their three  signature vineyards listed by altitude: Mirador, Bella Vista, and Altamira. Last year the winery celebrated their 20th birthday and have achieved many accolades during the recent years. In 2012 the Bella Vista Vineyard 2010 was selected among the World Wide TOP 10 by the yearly publication of Wine Spectator. The following year their “Fincas” line consisting of Altamira Vineyard, Mirador Vineyard, and Bella Vista Vineyard are the Top 3 Wine Spectator ranking of Argentinian wines. These awards are a result of the respect that Achaval-Ferrer has for their single-origin vineyards and the overall Mendoza region. Their wine is also available in over 70 counties, yet these aren't simply fruit forward international styled wines. In fact, they are complex  Over the course of the monthly session I received two samples below:

Achaval-Ferrer Malbec 2014 ($25.00) - 100% Malbec sourced from the three main vineyard with altitudes ranging from 3,150 to 3,600. The fermented wine is aged 9 months in French oak barrels. This is a savory Malbec, both juicy and dirty where the spicy leathery nose is similar at the tail. Expect a medium tannic finish.

Achaval-Ferrer Quimera 2012 ($34.99) - This is a Bordeaux styled blend with 50% Malbec, 70 year old vines from Medrano and Luján from Cuyo; 24% Cabernet Franc, from Tupungato; 16% Merlot from Tupungato; 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, old vines of Medrano and Tupungato; 2% Petit Verdot. Predetermined blocks are harvested for this wine and then fermented. After fermentation the winery selects the best barrels from each grape variety, blends them, and ages 12 months in French oak barrels. The bottle's back label includes all the technical notes and recommends to decant one hour before serving. I followed that recommendation. There's plenty of dark fruit in this wine, followed by a heavy dose of chewy spices. It carries some dirt and tobacco; structured, balanced, and acidic. And the finish lingers.... Nicely done. Much more complex then your standard 100% Malbec. Reminiscent of Geo Gonzalez in his prime, throwing a diet of curve balls then a deadly fastball for the K. Cheers to Achaval-Ferrer, Protocol Wine Studio, and Argentinian Malbec.

Monday, September 19, 2016

UPS Just Wasn't Excited About #GrenacheDay

What happens when you have five bottles of wine delivered on a 95+ degree day? 'Cause that's what happened to my #GarnachaDay 2016 wines. Apparently UPS didn't share my excitement with the Snooth virtual tasting that evening which featured the Wines of Garnacha and hosted by Master Sommelier Laura Maniec and Master of Wine Christy Canterbury.  It was readily apparent that my sample wines were cooked, in other words significantly over heated. The first clue was that the wine bottles were hot to the touch, not just warm, but hot. Second, two corks were protruding form the top lip of their bottles. Third, after uncorking, the cork's sides were streaked with wine that had managed to not only push the corks up when it expanded, but also seep through the cork. And finally, the wines tasted flabby and a little stewed. Oh great.

I still attended the virtual tasting and learned that the five wines represented the five Designation of Origin (DO) where Garnacha (Grenache) originated. These DOs (Calatayud, Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Somontano and Terra Alta) are located in eastern Spain, in the wine country just outside of Catalina. The grape thrives in the hot Mediterranean climate with it's well drained soils and cool desert like nights. The first written mention of Garnacha is in 1513, making it not only one of the oldest "modern" grapes but also one of the most planted. Let's also not forget about Grenache Blanc or Garnatxa Blanca as it is known in Catalonia. This white grape is related to Garnacha and has found a home in the Rhone where it is France's 5th most popular planted grape.

Below are the five wines that were sampled during the virtual tasting with reviews from other participants. And remember these wines were all priced less than $15.

Clos Dalian Garnatxa Blanca 2015 - MyVineSpot: Flavors are delicate; texture is nice, and great acidity, makes it a wonderful food.

La Miranda de Secastilla Blanca 2014 - TheFrugal WineSnob: YUM! A kiss of oak, petrol..

Castillo de Monseran Garnacha Carinena 2014 - the least cooked wine that I received, maybe because of the screw-cap closure - WineCompass:  red plum, vege, spicy finish

Evodia Garnacha 2015 - ‏Fiery01Red: A steal for $10.99! Modern rich texture lots of juicy fruit floral notes & spice.

Garnacha Centenaria 2014MyVineSpot: Always excellent value for the money (approx $13) and a go-to #BBQ #wine.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Spirits Review: Dragon Distillery's "Bad" Bill Tutt Original Moonshine and Clustered Spires Vodka

The craft distillery revival is growing steadily in the Free State with 20 distilleries joining the Maryland Distillers Guild. One new member is Dragon Distillery, the first Distillery in Frederick city. The distillery is owned by Mark & Tania Lambert. Mark is a Navy Veteran who's family has been tilling a 200 acre tract of land - located about 25 miles from the distillery - since the mid 1700s.  Dragon Distillery offers several products including the "Bad" Bill Tutt Original Moonshine and the Clustered Spires Vodka that my brother-in-law was able to acquire at a local liquor store. The first spirit pays tribute to "Bad" Bill Tutt, Mark's great-grand father who in addition to his medical career was a gambler and moonshiner. And apparently this moonshine is based on an old family recipe. The vodka pays tribute to the city of Frederick and it's many clustered spires.  Great brand stories for these products but I only wish the actual products lived up to the stories. Neither was clean nor smooth as if parts of the heads or tails were included in the hearts. Heavy burn as well. Between six of us who have sampled, none gave the thumbs up. Let's hope this was just a flaw in an early batch and future runs are cleaner.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Beer at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

For those attending the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion next weekend (September 16-18), there will be plenty of local beer options to pair with the always talented music lineup.  Two breweries, Bristol Brewery and Studio Brew are located within (or just lining) the festival boundaries and Abingdon's Wolf Hills Brewing Company is available at several beer gardens and establishments.

Bristol Brewery is located adjacent to the Piedmont Stage so appropriately their Piedmont Pilsner is an appropriate choice for daytime listening. For the headliners such as Buddy Guy and Cracker go for the Sunset IPA.

Studio Brew's visible brick home is situated across the street from Cumberland Square Park and one hopes they will be pouring at the beer garden near that stage. I'd stay away from their higher abv barrel aged beers until after hours when Unknown Hinson and Houndmouth blast. the stage. During the day dance along with Scythian the hydrate with a pilsner and wit.

There are several other beers and breweries that should be available. I can't remember which venue poured the Wolf Hills Cream Ale but expect that beer to be available somewhere within the grounds. Or plan a detour into Abingdon on your drive down Friday.  In the past, Highland Brewing Company has had a presence and I would think the Devils Backbone will this year due to the monopoly distribution from ABI.  In any case, take advantage of the many shuttles to the area hotels and drink local craft beer. And remember, theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App has you covered for finding local breweries. Cheers.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Andes Kitchen with Ruca Malen Winemaker Pablo Cuneo and Chef Lucas Bustos

In August 2016, Ruca Malen Winemaker Pablo Cuneo and Chef Lucas Bustos brought The Andes Kitchen to the US, offering food and wine pairings in three cities: NYC, Chicago, and Washington DC. The event is a "celebration of the cuisine of the indigenous people of Argentina artfully paired with award-winning wines". In DC, the winery partnered with Rural Society, an Argentine steakhouse where the kitchen is lead by Chef Louis Gora. During the wine pairing seminar, Gora's team provided a small course specifically tailored to each Ruca Malen wine. And Chef Lucas Bustos noted that the onsite restaurant at the winery provides the same service for vineyard visitors. Here are the wines and food pairings at Rural Society and the photos are courtesy of Gregory White PR.

Ruca Malen, a Journey to the Heart of a Legend

According to an ancient local legend, love between Gods and mortals was forbidden. Therefore, Mapuche women always walked looking down, fearing to meet the piercing gaze of a beautiful God. But one day, a Mapuche woman, the most daring of them all, raised her head, and when she met the eyes of the God she instantly fell in love. The God, touched by her love, offered her an elixir to join the eternal beings. In return she gave him a home, "the young girl's house", so that they could create together a new lineage of legendary Gods.

Yauquen Torrontés 2015 ($12.99) - Grapes sourced from high altitude Salta. This wine is fresh, soft and fruity with an early harvest providing more citrus flavor. Loads of aromatics as well. Pair with empanades, spicy Thai, or during our course Montedito (a flavorful topping "riding" on a small slice of baguette) consisting of Morrone: roasted peppers, eggplant, goat cheese and anchovies.

Yauquen Malbec 2014 ($12.99) - The gapes were sourced from two vineyards (Lujan de Cuyo - 3,115 feet above sea level & Uco Valley - 3,600 feet above sea level) and fermented in stainless steel. This is a fruit forward juicy wine with plenty of acidity and lingering tannins. Paired with anther Montedito of smoked tomato, Serrano ham, and guindilla.
Ruca Malen Reserva Malbec 2014 ($18.99) - The grapes sourced from two regions - one providing herbal qualities, the second more fruit character. The wine was aged 12 months in 80% French Oak and 20% American Oak. This is a very smooth wine with concentrated fruit, mild saltiness, a little caramel and vanilla as well as a structured finish. Paired with Fugzza - Alcachofa (grilled artichoke, black olive, orange) and Tradicional (Confit onion, mozzarella, oregano).

Ruca Malen Reserva Petit Verdot 2013 ($18.99) - Grapes grown in a vineyard planted in 2000 located in Agrelo, Lujan de Cuyo. The wine was aged 12 months in 80% French Oak and 20% American Oak. This is a big and complex wine of dark black fruit and more tannic than the Malbec. Pair with juicy meats such as Salchicha (sausage) like Chorizo Gaucho (beef and port sausage) or Morcilla (Blood sausage, raisins, and pine nuts).

Kinien de Don Raul 2011 ($75) - 64% Malbec, 15% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon 10% Syrah. This was the jewel of the seminar, named in honor of Don Raúl de la Mota, one of the founding fathers of winemaking in Argentina. Each varietal wine separately spends 12 months in new oak barrels plus an additional 6 months after assemblage.  This is a big and intense wine, yet elegant and smooth; fruity and spicy. The wine was paired with two Pintxos: Res (Wagyu beef, chimichurri), and Setas (mushrooms).

Ruca Malen Brut Sparkling Wine NV ($27.99)  - 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay from Tupungato, Uco Valley. The still wine spends 18 months on their lees which provides a silky creaminess to the otherwise effervescent wine. Paired with red cake and tres leches.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Visiting Winchester's Three Breweries for the #VABreweryChallenge

Winchester is a decent road trip for us so we parlayed a trip to Wilson's Wild Animal Park to visit three downtown Winchester breweries for our #VABreweryChallenge.  Our first stop was the nano-est of breweries, Alesatian Brewing Co. (#46), located above the Roma Old Town Wood Fired Pizza on the pedestrian mall. Expect a rapid change in their portfolio as they brew small batches and only sell through the tasting room and the pizzeria.  We sampled through their fours beers, as well as the delicious Old Hill Betwixt Cider. The Hop Sneeze IPA is a solid India Pale Ale and the Random Wednesday a fill bodied Belgium Blonde. And the Pizza Bier was a balanced, not overly malty Amber ale. Nicely done. Another nice feature, crowlers are available.

Winchester Brew Works (#47) sits just north of the mall - easy walking though. They are slightly larger than Alesatian with both a larger beer menu and tasting area. In fact a 40th birthday party was in full gear. I had a flight of four as well as a sip of yet another solid IPA - the Cascade Falls IPA.  The flight beers were also solid and well made with the Canoe Love Cream Ale and Summer Blonde both very flavor-able paler beers.  The Mango Wheat was very unique with the fruit overwhelming the bready character. My favorite was the Fire Road Chipotle Smoked Porter.  The spices and smoky character are subtle and integrate nicely with the chocolate flavors. Very nice.

A littler farther north of the downtown mall sits the largest of the three, Escutcheon Brewing (#48). Their production is large enough where they distribute kegs and canned produce to the DC suburbs. It seems like their minerally and nicely hopped John Riggins 4th & 1 Pilsner is widely available.  Being a lighthouse guy, I enjoyed viewing their nautical inspired tasting room and themed beer names. The Plimsoll Mark on their logo incorporates the maximum draft or safe limit to which a ship may be loaded - and in our case the maximum draft beer to consume. Thus we sampled lightly - for me the slightly tart Reluctant Splice Gose.  Another nice offering I've had previously is their Agonic Line Lager.  Your biking or  lawnmower beer. Cheers and as always theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App can guide you to these breweries.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Visiting Peltier Winery During #WBC16

After tasting several wines from Peltier Winery & Vineyards during the #WBC16 Thursday night after party at Scotto Cellars, I scheduled a winery visit with owner Rod Schatz and Director of Marketing & Design Ian Bender. Besides being very welcoming, the primary incentive was to see and taste more of the winery's Reserve Teroldego -  the northern Italian cool climate grape from Trentino. You may be familiar with Peltier as Peltier Station. Bender instigated a brand and name change since the "station" part of the name wasn't really relevant, although railroad tracks do run past the winery.

I was able to persuade SanCrittenden to join me and Ian met us early Saturday and proceeded to provide a tour of the winery: from the crush pad, through the fermenting tanks, and into vineyards. During out visit, truck loads of freshly harvested Pinot Gris arrived as shown in the video below and Schatz had fired up the grill to BBQ lunch for the staff.  We also met newly hired winemaker Susana Rodrigeuz Vasquez, who allowed us to sample freshly fermenting juice. Oh so delicious. Vasquez comes from Constellation Brands where she managed the Chardonnay program and is expected to boost Peltier's white wine portfolio.  In the vineyards we walked through gnarly Old Vine Zinfandel as well as heavily canopied Teroldego.

We finished the tour in the tasting room where we tasted through the Peltier and Reserve brands. The whites include a light and graceful Vermentino, a tropical bright California-styled Sauvignon Blanc, and a silky smooth Preeminence blend of Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. For the reds, the Old Vine Zinfandels, the Black Diamond and Peltier are fantastic. The 2014 Triomphe blend of Petite Sirah, Teroldego, and Cabernet Sauvignon is velvety smooth, finishing with dark chocolate. The Reserve Teroldego is much more tannic than I had remembered and the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon a bold, bold wine. The tasting concluded with a delicious port styled USB made from Zinfandel. Excellent. Thank you Ian, Susana, and the Schatz for a fantastic visit. Cheers.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Seven Reasons to Visit the Livermore Valley AVA

During the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference I participated in the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association excursion. This was my first visit to the area but by the end of the trip I had a decent grasp of the major reasons why this is an exciting wine region to visit. In general the Livermore Valley AVA is located less than an hour east of San Francisco and is 25 miles long and 18 miles wide - resembling an oval. Within this area are 4,000 acres of vineyards that contain well draining soils and are blessed with daily maritime breezes that cool the region during the summer.  These are interesting factoids but the real reasons to visit the Livermore Valley AVA are listed below.

Learn About California Wine History
The Livermore Valley is one of the oldest wine making regions in California. For a quick timeline, in the 1840s Robert Livermore planted the first wine grapes in the valley. Then in 1882 Secretary of the CA Viticultural Commission, Charles Wetmore, established Cresta Blanca Vineyards. In 1883 pioneers C.H. Wente and James Concannon established Wente Vineyards Estate Winery and Concannon.Vineyard respectively. Both are now the oldest continuously-operated, family-owned winery in the country with Wente slightly older.  Then, in 1889, the original Judgement of Paris occurred when Wetmore's Livermore Valley Dry White wine won the Grand Prix at the International Paris Exposition. This was the first time an Ameican wine region had won a Gold medal in an international competition, let alone the Gand Prix. California was now on the wine map. And nearly a hundred years later, in 1982, the Livermore AVA was established

Visit the Concannon Cabernet Mother Vine
When James Concannon established his winery he imported vines directly from renowned Château Margaux and Château d’Yquem and became one of the first to produce Bordeaux-style wines in California.  In 1960 Jim Concannon, grandson of James, became lead winemaker at Concannon Vineyard. Five years later he collaborated with University of California – Davis in developing three Cabernet Sauvignon clones (7, 8 and 11) from a single vine that James Concannon had earlier imported from Château Margaux.  These Concannon Clones have played a major role in California's flourishing Cabernet market where today they account for approximately 80% of California Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Mother Vine is located at the beginning of a row near the auxiliary house not far from the tasting room.  Make sure you try the Concannon Vineyard 2013 Mother Vine Cabernet Sauvignon ($36). It is delicious.

Attend the Wente Winemakers Studio
Wente Vineyards is to Chardonnay what Concannon Vineyard is to Cabernet Sauvignon. In 1936 the winery released the first ever varietal-labeled Chardonnay and Wente clones now account for a similar 80% of all California Chardonnay. One source of the Wente clones comes from Charles Wetmore's imported Chardonnay budwood from Meursault in Burgundy. Wetmore had distributed some of this budwood
to the Theodore Gier vineyard in the Livermore Valley. The second major source of the “Wente clone” occurred in 1912 when Ernest Wente and Leon Bonnet, of UC Davis persuaded C.H. Wente to import Chardonnay cuttings from the vine nursery at the University of Montpellier.

Visitors can learn more about the Wente Chardonnay clones and other wines at the Wente Winemakers Studio. The program consists of five experiences such as blind tasting, food pairing, aroma training, serving vessels (aka does glass size and share matter), and a blending experience. During our tour we participated in the first four sessions and they were not only enjoyable but also educational. And yes, size does matter. Wente is offering a two for one package through January 2017. Use VIPVISIT as the promo code. As for the Wente Chardonnays my favorite seemed to oscillate between the fresh and affordable 2015 Morning Fog Chardonnay ($15) and the luscious 2014 Nth Degree Chardonnay (sorry for wine club members only).

Drink From Murrietta's Well
Water that is, not wine. Joaquin Murrieta Carrillo was a famous figure in California lore during the first half of the 1800s, where he was considered a bandit, horse thief, or a Mexican Robin Hood. And either Joaquin or his nephew are considered the basis for Johnston McCulley's Don Diego de la Vega - aka Zorro. Joaquin Murrieta discovered a little used well in the Livermore Valley that he would use to water his horses. In the 1880s Louis Mel purchased the land and planted a vineyard with cuttings from the famed Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux vineyards. I sense a pattern. He eventually sold the property to his friend Ernest Wente and later Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso revived the winery and opened Murrieta’s Well. They renovated the original winery and visitors can still see original beams and stones, dragged from the nearby river bed, embedded in the walls. Try the Murrieta's Well 2015 Small Lot Dry Rosé ($30).

Taste Petite Sirah
In 1964 Jim Concannon released the very first varietal-labeled Petite Sirah from his 1961 vintage which has lead him to be referred to as “The Father of Petite Sirah.” Today the grape is mildly available among Livermore wineries, but the three I sampled were fantastic. As expected, Concannon keeps the tradition alive with a few in their portfolio. I sampled the Concannon 2010 Reserve Petite Sirah ($40) - a chewy dark fruit wine with a spicy and acidic finish. Beautiful.  Next was the Page Mill Winery 2013 Tazetta Vineyard Petite Sirah ($36) that was similar to the Concannon but more earthy and leathery. Finally popular winemaker Collin Cranor poured us the Vasco Urbano Wine Company 2013 Heine Petite Sirah ($48) and this may have been my favorite - it's as complex as the others, but oh so smooth.......

Savor White Bordeaux
Although Cabernet Sauvignon hogs the limelight, white Bordeaux wines have been in integral part of the wine history of the Livermore Valley. For it was Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon that comprised Wetmore's Grand Prix winning dry white wine. One current source of Livermore Valley white Bordeaux is the Ghielmetti Estate Vineyard where the Steven Kent Winery 2015 "Lola" White Wine ($24) and the 3 Steves Winery 2015 Sauvignon Blanc are sourced. The single varietal Sauvignon Blanc was fresh and fruity, yet I yearn for the blends.  The "Lola" was just more complex and savory as was the tropical leading Concannon.Vineyard 2014 Reserve Assemblage Blanc ($24).  Concannon also released a dessert white Bordeaux wine in the very rich and tasty 2013 Reserve Late Harvest Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc. Finally, Semillon stood proudly on it's own in the Cuda Ridge Wines 2015 Mel's Ranch Vineyard Semillon. This creamy tropical wine is a keeper.

Discover 50 Close Knit Wineries
There are currently 50 wineries within the Livermore Valley AVA and not only are they close in proximity to each other but there's a shared comradery that was prevalent throughout our tour. One winemaker arrived in a borrowed truck from another winemaker, equipment is passed around as needed, and advice shared readily.  In the words of Guy Clark, "That' the kind of stuff I like to be around".  theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App can help you navigate while driving among the different wineries, but another interesting option is the Pedego Electric Bikes. Pedal when you want, use the motor on more difficult passages. In any case, I highly recommend a visit to the Livermore Valley AVA. Not only will you sample delicious historic wines,  but you will be treated as an honored guest in the tasting room. Cheers.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Spirits Review: Troy & Sons Platinum Corn Whiskey

Asheville North Carolina is rapidly becoming a major player in the craft brewery scene, but it also includes a few distilleries - which is not surprising considering it's Appalachian location. One of these is Asheville Distilling Company and their Troy & Sons brand. In 2008, owner Troy Ball started researching local moonshine recipes both in person and through the North Carolina State Archives. Her goal was to recreate the "keeper" moonshines - smooth with little to no burn. Once perfecting her recipe she opened the distillery in 2011 with the brand name incorporating her three sons: Marshall, Coulton, and Luke.

The Troy & Sons Platinum ($32) is 100% corn whiskey uniquely made with Crooked Creek Corn, an open-pollinated heirloom white corn, that is grown locally in the mountains of Western North Carolina. In fact, the corn was first farmed by earlier generations of the same family in the late 1700’s. After testing, it was recognized as an heirloom variety thought to be lost in the mid 1800's. As expected of a "keeper" moonshine, this whiskey is very smooth and starts with lightly toasted caramel which persists alongside stone fruits and Christmas spices. Very complex. And very appealing.