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.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Reviewing the Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2012

Amarone della Valpolicella is a style of wine making in the Valpolicella viticultural region in the Italian province of Verona. Amarone wines are made from a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and Versonese grapes that are placed in open crates to dry for a number of months in a process called appassimento. From its inception in 1936, the Cesari winery under founder Gerardo Cesari has been producing Amarone wines with the Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2012 ($40) the latest release. The winery utilizes Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes that are sun dried for four months then fermented very slowly on their skins.  The wine then undergoes an extensive aging regime, a mixture of French oak barriques and large Slavonian oak barrels for one year, then blended and aged 18 additional months.  Once bottled, the wine rests for eight months before release. Amarone wines are considered very age-able and when I first opened the wine was very tight, a restricted aroma and soft flavor. I lightly corked the bottle and opened the next evening and the wine had transformed into a beauty. Dark fruit and spice on the nose,  more dark fruit and chocolate melting through a soft mid-palate, and finishing very smooth with a slight spicy character.  With patience, nicely done.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Visiting More Loudoun County Breweries #VABreweryChallenge

Loudoun County is the largest and fastest growing craft beer region in the Commonwealth and this past weekend I used theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App to visit four. Dog Money Restaurant & Brewery (#42) opened recently in the old Vintage 50 location by brewer Dean Lake and Tim Regan. The existing 10 barrel system is used to brew a rotating lineup of 6 lagers\ales with the Loudoun Common Golden Lager spot on. The molasses fused Mo’ Porter was also quite nice with the remaining - Dog Money Red Ale, Hostile Extraction IPA, Belgian-style Tripel, and Dog Money Hefeweizen - all up to style.

Black Walnut Brewery (#43) is also located in downtown Leesburg and opened at the same time as Dog Money. owner Patrick Wilt is\was a passionate home brewer and converted a former salon to a cozy brewery.  The patio is a great spot to sip a pint and my favorite was the Black Lab IPA. This black IPA was flavorful with a balanced and smooth finish. I also tried the Yellow Lab IPA and it was a little weaker in both flavor and hop character. I look forward to revisiting when the brewery's production has settled.
Barnhouse Brewery (#44) reopened this Spring in its new barn-brewery, tightly integrated in the Loudoun Wine Trail with The Vineyards & Winery at Lost Creek and Hidden Brook Winery within walking distance.  I sampled through a 4-beer flight and loved three quarters.  The Breakfast Bitter was well made, just not my thing that day. On the other hand, the Piedmont Smoked Porter was outstanding with the smoky flavors integrating with the food truck sausages. The Kittoctin Kolsh was spot on, refreshing and minerally. And finally the Barrel Aged Whiskey Shenandoah Stout, aged in used Catoctin Creek Distilling Company Roundstone Rye barrels, is fantastic. The vanilla and rye blends nicely with the stout's mellowed chocolate malt.  Barnhouse is a must visit.

As is Vanish Farmwoods Brewery (#45), a large brewery and hops farm located just north of Lucketts.  On our visit there were 14 beers on tap which makes filling their massive 12 beer flight a little easier.  And these 14 fulfilled many styles: IPAs, an India Pale Lager, a few tasty sours, a delicious Cabernet Stout, a few Belgiums, and even an Oatmeal Pale Ale. There was not one beer where I thought, "don't like that one". There's also regular live music, cornhole, and plenty of picnic tables inside and out. I hope to return during their Oktoberfest celebration the last weekend in September. Cheers.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Why I Enjoyed the 2016 Lodi Wine Bloggers Conference

A couple weeks ago I attended the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference sponsored by the Lodi Wine Grape Commission. There's always some crumbling about the sessions, and personally I would have preferred more Lodi specific content. But in total I believe #WBC16 was a great success. Here's why.

The Bargain Attendee Fee
Where else can you eat and drink for three plus days for only $95? I often feel unworthy of

Tasting through New Zealand's Yealands Family Wine in the Conference Hallway
An extended lunch caused many of us to miss the A Bold New Look at Sustainability session sponsored by Yealands Family Wines and hosted by chief winemaker Tamra Kelly-Washington. Fortunately I met the Palm Bay Int'l reps walking out and they generously donated six Yealands' wines for us to sample. After a scramble for glasses, a pop-up tasting ensued. The wines consisted of a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Noir, and the rest Sauvignon Blanc; the S1 Single Block Yealands Marlborough Estate Sauvignon Blanc being the consensus favorite.

The Lodi Opening Reception at Mohr Fry Ranch
This was the first introduction to Lodi wines for most of us and it reinforced rumors that Lodi was just not all old vine Zinfandel. Yes, there were several nice examples of this signature wine, but I also sampled Turley Wine Cellars Cinsault, Mettler Family Vineyards Pinotage, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Sauvignon Blanc.  We also had our first opportunity to taste the Scotto Cellars Masthead: A Lodi Wine Blended by Wine Bloggers. The 100% Mohr-Fry Ranch Block 433 Sangiovese was very smooth. Well done.

The Scotto Cellars Masthead Party
The conference's first after party was sponsored by Scotto Cellars in their new downtown Lodi tasting room. They also invited Peltier Winery & Vineyards and Klinker Brick Winery to pour alongside Scotto's wine and Cider Brothers cider. In fact, this was my sole opportunity to drink cider the entire trip and their William Tell Dry Hard Cider with Pinot Grigio was a hit. The party also felt like a family reunion as more friends strolled in. 

Lodi Teroldego
At the Masthead party I learned that Lodi vineyards grow Teroldego, the Northern Italian grape from Trentino. Hard to believe. Yet I sampled at least three versions: the Peltier Winery Reserve Teroldego 2010, the Estate Crush Teroldego, and the LangeTwins Single Barrel Teroldego 2012. All were structured, acidic, and tannic - ready to lay down for a few years.  My next homework assignment is to research why Lodi is a good location for this grape.

Peltier Winery Visit
After meeting owner Rod Schatz and Director of Marketing & Design Ian Bender at the Masthead party, I accepted their semi-invite/semi-I invited myself to their winery. SanCrittenden and I skipped out of the Saturday morning sessions and Ian met us and provided the complete VP treatment. There was a winery tour (with tank sampling from newly hired winemaker Susana Rodrigeuz Vasquez), a crush pad tour (with Pinot Gris being crushed), a vineyard tour, and a tasting through their Peltier and Reserve portfolio. I had previously tasted their wines through their legacy Peltier Station labels, but the depth and strength of their portfolio is impressive. (See post here.)

Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut (Cinsault)
Over the weekend I sampled several excellent Cinsaut - Estate CrushTurley Wine Cellars, McCay Cellars, Michael David Winery -  all sourced from the historic Bechthold Vineyard. First planted in 1886, it is considered the oldest Cinsaut vineyard in the world - older than those in France where it is the fourth most widely planted grape variety. Before DNA analysis confirmed the grapes as Cinsaut, Al Bechthold was selling his crop for as low as $250 a ton. Now the highly desired grapes fetch ten times that amunt; all thanks to Joseph Spenker, the great-grandfather of Bechthold 's wife Wanda. In general, the Lodi Cinsaut wines were lively and intense with smooth and slightly tannic tails. Cinsaut Me with these wines that averaged only $25.

The Craft Spirits Lounge
The Wizard of Whiskey Justin Koury must have spent months acquiring the plethora of spirits he displayed at the #WBC16 #CraftSpirits Lounge. I never bothered to count, but there had to be at least four to five dozen? Besides drinking old favorites like the Hillrock Estate Distillery Solera Aged Bourbon, there were several highlights like the Few Spirits Rye Whiskey and the Bozeman Spirits Distillery 1889 Montana Whiskey. The lounge was also simply a quiet place to hand out - playing cards or catching up. At least quiet until the Pinata bashing....  Thanks Justin and all the sponsors.

The Friday Night Excursion with 99 Bottles
The vineyard excursion is usually one of the highlights of the conference and this year's equaled the fabulous Bien Nacido Vineyards excursion during the Santa Barbara conference. Our small group was taken to Estate Crush, a custom crush facility with over 80 clients and 120+ brands. Proprietors Bob and Ali Colarossi greeted us with glasses of 2015 Estate Crush Albarino and revealed our assignment. We were to create the final blend for their 2014 Colarossi Estate Old Vine Zinfandel that would be bottled and given as a parting gift to all the WBC16 wine bloggers. Divided into four groups, we all started with 95% Zinfandel and two additional grapes that would comprise the final 5%.  My partner Eveann of Vino Con Vista Italy and I were given Sangiovese and a Cabernet based Red Blend which we turned into a final blend of 97% Zin and 3% Red Blend.  During the blind tasting our blend received only one vote, ironically from me - talking about having a cellar palate. The wining wine was blended by Rachel of rachelvonwine and Heather of 10K Bottles - a blend of 97% Zin, 2% Syrah and 1% Petit Verdot.  After our blending session we proceeded to the Colaross's home where we were fed abundant amounts of Paella de Wetmore, thanks John, and of course wine - even going back to a three or four year vertical of their estate Old Vine Zinfandel. I didn't return back to the hotel until 11:30 - well past the 8:00 pm scheduled departure - and I hear the party didn't wrap up until 1:30. Thank you so much Bob and Ali.

Livermore Valley Wine Country Excurion
I always try to commit to a WBC pre-excursion and chose the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association sponsored tour. This was a fantastic outing, lavishly planned and executed. We had dinner at historic Concannon Vineyard hosted by John Concannon and Karl Wente, the 5th generation winemaker at Wente Vineyards Estate Winery. Both Concannon and Wente have been producing wine continuously since 1883 and we tasted the grapes straight off Concannon’s Cabernet Sauvignon “mother vine,” parent of 80% of Cab vines planted in California.  Similarly Wente's Chardonnay clones are responsible for about 86% of Chardonnay vines planted in California. We also enjoyed breakfast and wine at the Wente family Murrieta’s Well as well as a series of interactive wine sessions at the Wente Winemaker Studio. Finally there were numerous tastings of other producers such as Steven Kent Winery, 3 Steves WineryMcGrail Vineyards & Winery, Las Positas Vineyards, and our new favorite winemaker Collin Cranor. More to follow on this subject.

Generosity of the Lodi Wine Grape Commission and the Participating Wineries
We will never know that total amount of effort put forth by volunteers busing tables, attending meetings, laying cable that enabled the conference to succeed. Neither will we know the total amount of Lodi wine poured on our behalf.  But I completely appreciate the time and money that the Lodi sponsors undertook to make this conference happen. For instance, the converted high school now used for conventions did not have WiFi before our conference. The Lodi Wine Grape Commission through different philanthropic groups raised $60,000 in order to install the much need WiFi. And just days before the conference technicians were tweaking the routers for each individual meeting room.

Then there's the wines and dinners. The Colarossio's of Estate Crush poured our small party an unbelievable amount of wine including the vertical of their excellent estate old vine zinfandel. There's the wines poured during the opening reception,  Scotto Cellars and their Masthead party, and the various lunches, dinners, excursions, etc. And during the conference dinner, Michael McCay uncorked a rare double magnum of McCay Cellars Contenium Zinfandel on top of his generous assortment of other wines. So thank you very much to all the volunteers and participating wineries. Cheers to a fantastic conference.