Wednesday, April 27, 2016

DO Rias Baixas Albarino - A Beachcombers Type of Wine

Since An Introduction to Galicia's DO Rías Baixas was published three weeks ago, I've been able to sample the half dozen wines through the weekly #WineStudio Twitter chat (Tuesdays 9 PM ET).  The primary conclusion so far is that the wines are generally bright, with a lemon character, various degrees of salinity, and racy acids. In other words, a wine to pair with seafood like oysters and clams or to sip in the sun: a beachcombers wine. Got that OBXers. I'm already looking forward to clamming in the Albermarle Sound.  These wines are 100% Albarino and excellent values as the suggested retail price in this group ranges from $14 to $17.  Keep following the #Winestudio session as it continues into May with Albarino blends and other wines from DO Rias Baixas. Cheers.

Adegas Gran Vinum, 2015 Nessa DO Rías Baixas ($17) - citrus and stone fruit, mellow minerals and saline, bright acids (favorite of the group)

Martin Codax, 2014 Martin Codax DO Rías Baixas ($17) - floral nose, multi citrus flavors, very crisp

Rectoral do Umia, 2014 Viñabade DO Rías Baixas ($15) - serve very cold to increase the floral appeal and acids (least favorite of the group)

Señorio de Rubiós, 2015 Robaliño DO Rías Baixas ($16) - creamy citrus lemon on the palate; minerals and salt in the acidic finish

Veiga Naum, 2014 Veiga Naum DO Rías Baixas ($15) - I received a cooked bottle, but others mentioned its racy acids and deep salinity

ATTIS Xion (Attis Bodega y Viñedos) 2014 DO Rías Baixas ($14) - extended lemon creamsicle, saline, bright acids

Monday, April 25, 2016

Caboose to Beltway Berliner Weisse on the W&OD

theCompass view of
the W&OD between
Sterling and Vienna
Beltway's selection on 4/23/2016
On Friday afternoons and Saturday, take a moderate bike ride from Vienna's Caboose Brewing Company to Sterling's Beltway Brewing Company and quench your thirst with a low abv Berliner Weisse. The tasting room at Beltway is only open during this period so plan accordingly. The brewery provides samples of their contracted brews plus two house offerings - one being the Berliner Weisse Sour Ale (4% abv). This is a refreshing ale, light, very fruity, and tart. Approximately 11 miles to the east, Caboose has been pouring their The "Zoo" Berliner Weisse (3.4%) since their inception last year. The latest iteration is a little less fruity and comes across dry and effervescent- but with a dose of sour and tartness. And as always, theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App can guide you to all the breweries and wineries off the W&OD Bike Trail and beyond.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Briney Melon Gose, Where Art Thou?

This week I failed to grab the newest Anderson Valley Brewing Company Gose release, Briney Melon Gose, so I decided to drown my sorrows with my existing Gose collection. This tart style is traditionally brewed with salted water, malted wheat, and augmented with Coriander and originated in Goslar and Leipzig Germany. The tartness is created using lactic bacteria and is normally comparable to a Berliner Weisse. And like the Wit beer style, Gose has been resurrected by the American craft beer industry.  My favorite American version remains the Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose (4.2% abv) - which provides both tartness and tangy flavors.  Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Otra Vez (4.5% abv) is a new year-round offering that includes prickly pear cactus and grapefruit that is bittered and finished with experimental hops. Once again the tangy infusion of fruit completely compliments the tartness. There's also a pronounced hop presence at the finish which also blends nicely. The Victory Brewing Company Kirsch Gose (4.7%) comes across the tartest with cherries and cherry juice added after fermentation. The cherries dominate and the finish is a bot creamy sweet and dry.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ernst Loosen Comes To Town to Discuss Dry Riesling

The Mosel Valley is one of the few areas where phylloxera won't survive in its porous sandy soils. Thus vines are planted "ungrafted" on original rootstock. And many of these ungrafted vines are well over 100 years old. These were a few of the many facts I learned from Ernst Loosen during a recent Dry Riesling seminar at Cork Wine Bar. During this event, the popular and influential owner of Germany's Dr. Loosen winery discussed his family's history, the topography of Mosel as well as Pfalz (home to his Villa Wolf brand) and poured many delicious dry Rieslings.

In the Mosel Valley, vineyards are generally steep, south facing, and in many cases comprised of red or blue slate soils. Ernst spent considerable time discussing these slate soils -- particularly with a map displaying vineyards by soil type. Besides being well drained and nutrient poor (forcing the roots to dig deep), the slate also radiates heat creating mini micro-climates. The vineyards are also protected from "foul" weather drifting over from France by the Rhenish-Westphalian Slate Mountains. And as stipulated by an edict from the 1700s, only Riesling can be grown in the Mosel Valley.
Ernst also discussed the Dr. Loosen pedigree as the estate has been in the same family for 200 years. His grandparents had two separate estates and these were joined by marriage with the current winery coming from his grandmother's holdings. Interestingly one side of the family only produced dry Rieslings whereas the other only sweeter versions. Today, the winery's six major vineyards are designated as “Erste Lage” -- equivalent to grand cru -- as designated in the 1868 Prussian classification of Mosel vineyards.  Wines from these estates are designated single-vineyard whereas all other Dr. Loosen wines are labeled as estate wines. 

Ernst also stressed how Dr. Loosen Rieslings can age, both in the bottle as well as in the large oak casks used for fermenting and aging. In fact, through a friend of his grandfather's he learned about a method of extreme aging.. He conducted his own experiment and by creating a reductive environment with continual topping off and making sure the yeast were still active, he was able to validate that a wine could age 17 years in cask was still by lively and vibrant. The extended maturation in the cask, on full lees, stabilizes the wine naturally and provides time for it to develop structure and deeper complexity.  Seventeen years is by no means a standard practice but they do age most of their Rieslings on the lees for at least a year -- and usually for two.

2014 Dr. Loosen Riesling Dry ($12)
This is the winery's entry level wine made from contracted fruit that Dr. Loosen's vineyard manager oversees. Most of these vineyards reside in blue slate soils. For such an inexpensive wine there is a pronounced floral aroma, a touch of minerals and racy acids.

2014 Dr. Loosen “Red Slate” Riesling Dry ($18)
This wine is made from red slate estate vineyards in Erden and Ürzig and fermented on its less for 12 months in the 3,000-liter oak casks. This is a richer, rounder, and more elegant wine, with intense minerals that compliment the citrus profile. The finish is more subdued but plenty refreshing.

2013 Wehlener Sonnenuhr (The Sundial of Wehlen) Riesling GG Alte Reben ($54)
This single vineyard GG wine comes from the steep and rocky blue slate vineyard (VAY-len-er ZON-en-ooer) where the vines are well over 100 years old. The wine is fermented and aged in traditional 1,000-liter Fuder casks on less for one year. The result is a full bodied, yet feminine wine showing more apple over citrus and still plenty of acids for a refreshing finish. Ernst refers to this wine as a graceful ballet dancer.

2012 Erdener Treppchen (The Little Staircase of Erden) Riesling GG Alte Reben ($54)
Long ago, in order to tend the vines, workers built stone steeps into the hillside of this red slate vineyard. Ernst referred to this wine as a "mountain climber", not only referencing the stone steps, but also because it is a muscular wine - complex and intense. There is also a considerable mineral content - almost minty in flavor that helps transition the wine from its wet stone aroma to the finish.

2013 Ürziger Würzgarten (The Spice Garden of Ürzig) Riesling GG Alte Reben ($54)
The steep Ürziger Würzgarten (ERTS-ih-ger VERTS-gar-ten) vineyard was planted in red volcanic soil over 100+ years ago. Like the other GG wines, this one is fermented and aged in Fuder cask for one year before bottling. The herbal aroma is overpowering with the palate exploding with tropical and mineral driven flavors. Another intense offering.

2012 Ürziger Würzgarten (The Spice Garden of Ürzig) Riesling GG Alte Reben Reserve ($92)
 This reserve wine is the same fruit from the previous wine, but kept in oak for 24 months and then aged a year in the bottle before release. Whereas the GG version was intense, this wine is smooth and elegant - almost delicate. The acids are soft, but still refreshing. Fantastic.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Virginia Winemakers Discuss the 2016 Governor's Cup Case Wines

With the conclusion of the 2016 Governor’s Cup® competition, the Virginia Wine Board and Virginia Vineyards Association have organized four regional Governor's Cup Case educational series. These forums are designed to introduce the dozen wines in the Governor's Cup Case as well as to allow the winemakers and vineyard managers to discuss their practices that lead to their specific award winning wine. At the first forum this week hosted by Stone Tower Winery there was plenty of vineyard and winery conversations regarding trellis systems, cold soaking, yeast strains, pH, and racking.  And as Doug Fabbioli commented, "it was nice to see open secrets being shared" among the wine makers.

Only wines made from 100% grown Virginia fruit are eligible for the Virginia's Governor's Cup and at the 2016 competition 38 of these wines were awarded Gold medals (they scored an average of 90-100 points). The twelve wines with the highest average score were identified as the "Governor's Cup Case". The wine with the highest overall score is the Governor's Cup Winner and in 2016 that honor went to the Keswick Vineyards 2014 Cabernet Franc Estate Reserve. Congratulations to winemaker Stephen Barnard and the Schornberg family.

Master of Wine Jay Youmans directed the competition judging and will present the wines during these educational forums.  What is readily apparent in both the case wines as well as the list of gold winning wines was the dominance of Cabernet Franc, the ascendancy of Petit Manseng, and the absence of Viognier -- the commonwealth's allegedly signature grape. Cabernet Franc is well suited to the Virginia environment, from it's clay soils, early ripening, and loose clusters and Youmans noted that almost all the case club reds were either 100% Cab Franc or included some percentage of the grape if a blended wine.

The winemakers who attended the forum were very enthusiastic about Petit Manseng. Like Cab Franc, the grape grows in loose clusters allowing moisture to evaporate before inducing rot. The small, thick skins also protect from our summer humidity. The downside is these small grapes produce small yields - although it appears Horton Vineyards coaxes a larger yield than other vineyards. Neil Glaser of Horton also recounted how their winery was the first in the United States to sell Petit Manseng in 1999 when the grape variety was not registered with the TTB as a grape name. Thus the winery labelled the wine as a place name until the following year when Jenny McCloud of Chrysalis Vineyards petitioned to have the grape name added to the official registrar.

Since Petit Manseng can be produced in a range of styles from dry to semi-dry to a dessert wine, the winemakers discussed the difficulty in marketing the wine. For instance, the Michael Shaps 2014 Petit Manseng is completely dry whereas the Horton Vineyards 2014 Petit Manseng is made off dry, the more traditional style for this highly acidic grape. Youmans commented that unless Virginia winemaker's devise a labeling scheme the wine may encounter the same consumer confusion as Alsatian wines where the consumer has no idea of the wine's sweetness until the cork is pulled.

Virginia wine on theCompass
After tasting the dozen wines I was impressed with the breadth of quality from the older, more established wineries to the smaller or younger establishments. Stone Tower's first estate wine was impressive and a visit to relative newcomer Granite Heights must be planned. Bluestone has landed in the case club a couple times recently and demonstrates that as consumers we should not ignore the Shenandoah Valley. Also geographically, Loudoun County provided three of these wines and the Monticello region five. But cheers to all Virginia wine and the winemakers and vineyard workers who are making the industry successful.

Virginia's 2016 Governor's Cup Case Wines
Future Governor's Cup Case Educational Series

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Integrating Beer & Cheese at Right Proper Brewing Company

This weekend I returned to Right Proper Brewing Company - in reality the legacy Shaw Brewpub & Kitchen as the brewery has also opened a  larger brewing facility and tasting room in  Brookland. Good for you Catholic University folks. The occasion of my visit was to introduce Finca Hispana owner Peter Deutsch to the DC beer scene and Right Proper's "Beer for the Soul" seemed a good choice. I'm attracted to the brewery because of their portfolio of low abv funky and tart Belgium and French Farmhouse ales. A perfect example is their Ornithology Grisette (3.9% abv) fermented using a house mixed-culture of wild yeasts in 45 hl French oak foudres. This Saison-like beer was originally designed to server to miners as opposed to the farmhand target of Saison. Right Proper's includes a wheat based wort and the final product is light with funky flavors. I'm a Berliner Weisse fan and their Kick Kick Snare Berliner Weisse (3.5% abv) is solid with sharp tartness

After our Southern Fried Chick-Filet, Peter was interested in the numerous cheese offerings which I never realized was that expansive. We choose a sampling of three, one Caromont Red Row (raw cow’s milk) from Virginia, Spring Brook Reading (raw cow's milk) from Vermont, and a cheese to be named later. I paired these with the NABI Farmhouse Ale (4.5% abv) and an unwittingly excellent choice. The funky and yeasty ale paired well with each of these cheeses.  And for now the NABI is my favorite Right Proper beer.

Next stop, the Brookland location.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Lebanese Wine From Chateau Ksara

Last August during Wine Bloggers Conference 2015 I was able to sample a few Bordeaux styled red wines from Lebanon's Chateau Ksara.  They were the Château Ksara made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot grapes and oak aged for 18 months; the Cuvée IIIème Millénaire Ksara’s flagship red; and the 100%  Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines were big and bold wines with structure and plenty of tannins.  And priced very reasonably.

Wine making in what is today Lebanon dates back nearly 9,000 years ago and in Antiquity, from 3000 BC until Roman conquest, the Phoenicians exported wine throughout the Mediterranean. This trade pattern continued into the Middle Ages facilitated by Venetian merchants. Even when Lebanon was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire wine making was permitted for religious purposes allowing the Christian community to continue the tradition. In the mid 1850s, even with political strife occurring often, the modern Lebanese wine making industry commenced when Jesuit missionaries introduce new viticultural and vinicultural methods as well as new vines from French-governed Algeria  These priests planted vineyards in the Bekaa Valley which is known for its Mediterranean climate consisting of hot dry summers with cool nights,and its own natural water table from melting snow from surrounding mountain ranges. Indigenous varieties grown since the Phoenician period such as Marami and Baytamouni were replaced by French varieties such as Syrah, Chardonnay, and Cabernet-Sauvignon.

One of these vineyards would eventually turn into Chateau Ksara, the oldest and largest winery in Lebanon. The name translates to fortress as the current winery was the site of a fortress during the Crusader era.  The Jesuit priests and other Lebanese wineries persevered through two World Wars and more recently civil war and Syrian & Israeli invasions. Eventually the Jesuit fathers sold Chateau Ksara to its present owners to conform with the directives of the Vatican II synod. Today there are 33 wineries operating in Lebanon all based in the Bekaa Valley.

Last week while browsing a local wine store I noticed the familiar Cuvée IIIème Millénaire label. Then I noticed another Ksara option, the Blanc de Blancs ($11), a Bordeaux-ish white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Chardonnay. In general this is a nice wine, but a bit patchy with three noticeable sensations from nose to tail, but not fluid throughout. The nose is floral, the mid slightly nutty and creamy (four months in oak), and the finish is bright and acidic. For $11, well worth the buy.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

An Introduction to Galicia's DO Rías Baixas #WineStudio

Spain wine regions are usually noted for their dry desert-like conditions and bold red wines. The major exception to this rule is the Galicia region of north-western Spain, located along the Atlantic coastline and bordering Portugal to its south. This is a wet and green region, plenty of vegetation that feeds off the 71 inches of rain per year. In comparison, Bordeaux averages half that at 37.4 inches/year. In this  moisture rich environment red wines are a rarity and the white Albariño grape dominates. In fact it consists of 90% of all grape plantings and is the primary reason for the DO Rías Baixas denomination. 

During April and May we will be learning more about this region through the twitter based project #WineStudio. Protocol Wine Studio provides an agenda which elaborates on the many characters and pairings available with Rías Baixas Albariño. Below is some information you may have missed from last night. 

The DO was created in 1980, but when Spain joined the EU in 1986 the DO was changed to simply Rías Baixas as EU laws did not recognize a DO named for a single grape variety. I don't know why. In order to be labeled Rías Baixas, the wine must consist of at least 70% Albariño - and with the amount of this grape grown, a rather easy goal. The denomination also permits six other types of wines which includes the Rías Baixas Albariño - 100% Albariño from any sub-region. (See box.) According to Rias Baixas Wines, DO Rías Baixas encompasses five distinct sub-regions. Ribeira do Ulla is the newest (formed in 2000) and is the most northern region. Val do Salnés is known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape. This is the original and oldest sub-region and it's fingers reach out into the Atlantic.  Soutomaior is the smallest of the sub-regions and was registered in 1996. Soils are light and sandy over granite bedrock. Condado do Tea (The County of Tea) is named after the river Tea, a tributary of the Miño River which separates the border with Portugal. O Rosal also resides against the Miño River -- adjacent to the Atlantic.
DO Rías Baixas Wine Types:
  • Rías Baixas
  • Rías Baixas Albariño –100% Albariño, grapes can be sourced from any sub-zone
  • Rías Baixas Salnés
  • Rías Baixas Condado
  • Rías Baixas Rosal
  • Rías Baixas Barrica – wines aged in oak, can be red or white
  • Rías Baixas Tinto – red wine, less than 1% of all production

Because of the high rainfall and humidity grape vines are widely spaced and trained on stone pergolas and a wire trellis called a “parra".  These parras can reach up to seven feet tall, allowing breezes to prevent mildew and to promote even ripening. During harvest, workers must stand on grape bins in order to collect the grape bunches.

Despite the high rainfall amounts,  Rías Baixas vineayrds are blessed with ample sunshine - averaging over 2,200 hours of sunshine per year. This sunshine in conjunction with the cooler climate provides an environment for high natural grape acidity. Albariño wines are also known for their floral and mineral character, most likely impacted soil composition within Rías Baixas. The bedrock is primarily hard granite with a top layer of  mineral-rich alluvial (a combination of clay, silt, sand and gravel) formed from deposits eroded from running water.

Hope to see you online next Tuesday night 9PM ET. Cheers.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Spirits Review: Lunazul Reposado Tequila

I needed an inexpensive tequila for a party and choose the Lunazul Reposado ($21) - 100% Blue Agave. Being a reposado, the tequila rested between two and twelve months in oak. In this case used bourbon barrels. Lunazul was founded by Francisco Beckmann, a seventh generation descendent of Jose Antonio de Cuervo. In 1992 he sold his stake in the family dynasty but kept his share of agave fields in order to start Tierra de Agaves estate and the Lunazul (Blue Moon) label. Today the distillery is controlled by his son Jorge who grew up working all phases of the operation - from harvest to distillation. The master distiller is Francisco Quijano who's distillation philosophy is to keep things simple. The Lunazul Reposado has a light flavor profile; oily texture with some vanilla and caramel with a smoky burn. This is a very serviceable tequila, at the price, a perfect mixer and if tasting straight go neat or just a drop of water. Over ice gets too diluted. Cheers.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Wine of the Smokies - Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Moonshine isn't the only game in town in East Tennessee. Wine has gained traction west of the Smokies with over a dozen operating east of Knoxville. There's even The Rocky Top Wine Trail to guide you to five of these; although we still prefer the theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App. During a recent trip I was able to sample wine from three Tennessee wineries and yes, a majority of them are sweet. There's plenty of fruit wines, muscadine wines, hybrids, labrusca, and blends of all kinds. When vinifera did surface, the wine was usually made from left coast grapes -- although there was one wine that included locally grown Viognier. In general, the wines I sampled were well made and included several pleasant surprises.

Three wineries operate in the tourist mecca of Gatlinburg. We visited two starting with Tennessee Homemade Wines. As the name suggests, the family has been making homemade wines for over 100 years and the current batch consists of fruit, muscadine, and the world's most popular white labrusca grape Niagara. This wine wasn't bad, well made, just too much muskiness for my tastes. When in doubt, the Strawberry Stomp is excellent - comes across light and dry - and could pass for a dry rose. Well, maybe not completely - but close enough.

Sugarland Cellars was the second Gatlinburg winery on our agenda and provides a more traditional wine tasting experience with tours of the winery's operation. There's a plethora of unique choices from blended muscadine to fruit wines to sparkling Cayuga-Niagara - the Bliss. For fruit wines there's a sweet Cherry – Kee, but you have to try the Loganberry - a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry. And tasty.  The Century White was my favorite - a blend of local Seyval and Viognier, blended with Washington state Riesling and more Viognier from California.
Townsend is another entry point into the Smokey Mountains - about 20 miles west of Gatlinburg. Cades Cove Cellars is a nice post park excursion since alcoholic beverages are not allowed into the national park. Overall this was my favorite winery stop with all the wines getting positive reviews from our party. For whites, they produce a nice Riesling using Washington State grapes and a Seyval based Nature Excellence Bliss Adams Fall White.  Our companions enjoyed the muscadine based Rustic Cabin Red and we all enjoyed their dessert offerings - particularly the excellent Red Raspberry.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Spirits of the Smokies - Gatlinburg, Tennessee

We had planned a trip to the Tennessee side of the Smokey Mountains not realizing that one of the entrances, Gatlinburg, is the equivalent of a seaside boardwalk. The main street includes a rather intriguing aquarium, miniature golf,  sweet shops, stores, tourist traps and plenty of distilleries. Many times I heard the phrase "Disney for Adults". Unlike the Commonwealth there are no limits to shine tastings and each distillery provides a bit of entertainment - from the comical tasting staff to live music. These distilleries are all withing walking distance and more importantly distill their products on site; and in most you can see the shine or whiskey being distilled.

The Doc Collier Moonshine Distillery is based on the moonshine legend William "Doc" Collier's corn and sugar shine recipe. They claim to be the only Certified Craft Distillery in town and promote the pure English Mountain spring water. The spirits are only single distilled and the flavored shines utilize strictly juices and no artificial flavors and extracts. Thus, the straight shines were rather harsh - spicy with plenty of burn. Yet the flavored were quite good - even though I normally shy away from that style. The produce the always popular Apple Pie, Sweet Tea, Blackberry, Peach, Cherry, and Firecracker. The Peach and Blackberry were excellent with the former perhaps the best flavored shine I've tasted.

 I had the best experience at Sugarlands Distilling Company with James leading our group through a hilarious tasting. The distillery produces over a dozen mostly flavored shines many based off recipes from the Discovery Channel's Moonshiners series. For instance, there's Tickle’s Dynamite Cinnamon, Mark Rogers American Peach, Mark & Digger's Rye Apple, and Jim Tom Hedrick’s Unaged Rye. In addition, their Appalachian Apple Pie is probably the best offering. I went home with Jim Tom's shine - basically being a fan of the series.

Ole Smoky Moonshine operates two distilleries in Gatlinburg, "The Holler" and the Ole Smokey Barrelhouse - where the Ole Smoky Whiskey is made and laid to age. They claim that the Holler is America's most visited distillery and you've probably seen the distillery's television commercials. The staff was friendly and entertaining at both locations and at the Holler we listened to live music when tasting. Ole Smoky produces a plethora of flavored moonshine and whiskey - many that are only available at the distillery. I wasn't particularly a fan of most of these with the exception of the Mountain Java. For some reason that one spoke to me. I was also pleased with their straight shines, the Original (100 proof) and Blue Flame (128 proof), both clean and smooth at such high alcohol content.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

#VABreweryChallenge - Bristol Virginia

I've been attending the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion annually for the past few years and have always wondered when the Virginia craft beer movement (#VABreweryChallenge) would hit that city. Two years ago I saw signs of an awakening and it looks like there are now two breweries operating within the festival's parameter.  On Piedmont Street adjacent to the festival's Piedmont stage, Bristol Brewery (#33) operates a 10 barrel brewing system.  On this visit there were 12 beers on tap, eight standard and four seasonal. My sampler included the Piedmont Pilsner, Barefoot Blonde, Helle Raiser Lager, Double Loco IPA, and Holiday Porter. The last was a little too holiday spicy for me, but the remainder were solid beers. The pilsner, blonde, and lager were all fresh and clean with a nice balance of hops and when appropriate salty minerals. The Double IPA was smooth - not overbearing with hops. My companion preferred the Sunset IPA (clean and citrus hoppy) and that's what we chose to fill the brewery's jug-like growler. Looking forward to hanging out at the brewery's outdoor patio during BRRR performances.

In recent festivals the organizers have expanded the festival grounds to include Cumberland Square Park where Studio Brew (#34) is now located. Their motto is "Beer is an Art" and is filled with an art - photo studio theme.  The beer styles are more aggressive and experimental but I started with a basic - the Das Pils. This is a nicely made beer - one of my favorites - with balanced minerals, salt, and hops. My sampler also included the Mexican Backfire, a lager augmented with agave, but the agave is very subtle - wishing there was a little more. The King's Porter is a standard light toffee porter and the IRA Hop Bomb a clean hoppy IPA. The most aggressive beer was the Dancing Monk Barrel, a Belgium Specialty Ale aged in used bourbon barrels. The bourbon's presence is noticeable throughout from the aroma to the burn at the finish. This is easily the most bourbon infused beer I've tasted - drink last because all other beers will taste weak and dull afterwards. Cheers to Beer as Art.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

FurmintUSA Showcases the Versatility of this Hungarian Grape

This month Furmint USA conducted a ten day marketing blitz in NYC and Washington DC showcasing Hungary's signature white grape Furmint. Most wine consumers are unwittingly familiar with the grape through its use in the prestigious Tokaji Aszu dessert wines.  As the name suggests, Furmint dominates the Tokaj region which was the world's first appellation control designated long before Bordeaux and even Port wine. The region is rich in volcanic soil with the plateau protected by the Carpathian Mountains.

The goal of this media campaign was not only to introduce the U.S. market to Furmint wine, but also to emphasize the breadth of styles available to the consumer. Yes, there are the delicious sweet versions represented by Aszu and Szamorodni wines. But Furmint wines are also encapsulated in range of dry styles from bright acids to creamy layers of citrus.

One of these events was a trade tasting at the Embassy of Hungary. There were 17 Furmint wines poured which included several single vineyard wines providing a peek into terrior, particular the the affects of the volcanic, clay, or limestone soil. A common element among the wines which Shannon Jones of Grape Occasions and I discussed was a funky character that many Hungarian wines possess. I believe this is the result of the frequent use of native yeast and long spontaneous fermentation that these wines undergo.

We started with the bright and acidic Béres Vineyards and Winery 2014 Estate Furmint ($19) which also possessed a hint of minerals drawn from the volcanic soils. That was soon contrasted to the Barta Winery 2012 Old King Furmint ($38) a creamy and velvety wine with an interesting orange citrus profile - as opposed to the more common lemon profile. Winemaker Attila Homonna was present to describe the Burgundian fermentation process using neutral oak barrels for fermentation and 7 months aging. This wine represents the historic Old King Vineyard where grapes have been planted since the 13th century.

Another representative was Natalia Demko from Holdvölgy Winery (Valley of the Moon). Like most Hungarian wineries, this is a family venture, but uniquely, the winery includes a century old 2km (1.25 mile) cellar network. If you are fortunate to visit the estate, the tastings are conducted at various spots within their cellar trail. And expect tasty wines. Their 2013 Vision Furmint ($24) is fresh, lemony, and acidic whereas the 2012 Hold and Hollo Dry Furmint ($21) has more depth and stone fruit flavors.

Gróf Degenfeld Winery provided an off-dry style of Furmint through their 2013 Estate Furmint ($18) which like a well made Riesling, balances the extra sugar with abundant acidity. And their tasty 2014 Zomborka Furmint is produced from organic grapes harvested from the Zomborka Vineyard.

Before the tasting I was most familiar with the dry Furmint wines from Erzsébet Cellar - having sampled their wines during previous media tastings in while in Budapest. Thus I was excited to meet winemaker Miklos Pracser Jr. who along with his sister Hajnalka operate the winery with their parents. Their 2012 Estate Vineyard ($21) has been a frequent visitor to my wine glass and is dry, show fresh lemons, and has an extraordinary long acidic finish. I returned a second time to the 2012 Zafír Furmint ($25) which possessed a stronger bouquet and rounder profile - most likely from the addition of some Hárslevelű. This single vineyard wine was my favorite of the evening.

The one non-Tokaj producer was St. Donat Estate which is located in Csopak overlooking Lake Balaton. This region provides clay and limestone soils and a unique micro-climate provide by lake affect conditions. Their soils vary with the 2013 Márga Furmint ($24) raised in clay infused marl and the 2014 Estate Furmint ($20) grown in limestone. The former is a beautiful wine, creamy & mineral driven with a long finish. The later is on the brighter side, with more green apples than most of the assembly.

There were also sweet wines represented by the Barta Winery 2013 Szamorodni Sweet Furmint ($47) and the Basilicus Winery 2012 Szamorodni Sweet Furmint ($30). Szamorodni refers to "édes" wines made from botrytised grapes and like this wine capture the apricot aspect of Aszu wines without the higher price tag.

Egészségére to Furmint, whether dry or sweet, and to Hungarian wine.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Dos Sauvignon Blanc Vinos Chilenos - Los Vascos & Errazuriz Max Reserva

Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($9, 13.5%) - Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild purchased Los Vascos (The Basques) in 1988 and sources these grapes on long term contracts from growers in the Casablanca and Curicó regions. Both are cool climate regions with large diurnal temperature swings enhancing acids and allowing for prolonged fermentation.  In fact, according to Jancis Robinson, Chile's Casablanca wine region has the potential to become synonymous with Marlborough, NZ pertaining to Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine is a tremendous value and delicious regardless of price. It is bright, with both lemon and lime character mixed in with some peachy stone texture. The finish is fresh and acidic.

Errazuriz Max Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2014 ($16, 13%) - MAX brand honors founder Don Maximiano Errazuriz who started the historic Viña Errázuriz in 1870. The winery is located in the Aconcagua Valley - at the foothills of Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Andes and for that matter, the Western Hemisphere. The vines for this wine were first planted in 2005 by the 5th generation Errazuriz in the Costa region, a cool climate area just eight miles from the Pacific Ocean. This wine is aged three months on it's lees, providing some texture and creaminess that blends seamlessly with the inherently strong lime and herbal flavors. And like the Los Vascos, there is crisp finish provided by the abundant acids.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Cepa 21 Virtual Tasting with José Moro

Third generation winemaker José Moro returned to a virtual setting to showcase three wines from Cepa 21 Winery, the sister winery to Emilio Moro Bodegas. Like it's sibling Cepa 21 is located in Ribera del Duero D.O., the highest appellation in Spain. Despite the elevation, the region enjoys a Mediterranean growing climate with more than 2,400 hours of sunshine, little rainfall, and extreme temperature changes between day and night. The Duero River provides both a water supply and a moderating affect on temperatures. The soils are a mixture of chalk, clay, and rocky textures.

Cepa 21 was formed by José and his brother Javier in 2007 with the goal of providing approachable fruit forward wines representing both quality and value. And like the Emilio Moro Bodegas, all the Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) wines are made using the family's unique Emilo Moro clone. Cepa 21 utilizes three vineyards: The Vega, The Hillsides, and The Plateau. The later has the highest elevation at 2,625+ feet and is the source for two of the wines we sampled: the Cepa 21 and Malabrigo.

Hito 2014 ($16) (hito means milestone) - aged 8 months in American and French oak; jammy and juicy blackberries, licorice, with solid acids and tannin. This wine nails the winery's goal to provide high quality and value.

Cepa 21 2011 ($25) - aged 14 months in American and French oak; big, chewy, spicy, minerals, structured tannins. The label refers to their grandfather's plow and honors the labor intensive nature of grape agriculture. This is another fantastic wine

Malabrigo 2011 ($70) - harvested from a single vineyard and aged 18 months in oak; integrated dark fruit, sweet texture, structured tannins. The label expresses Moro's memories of winter pruning and sitting sown afterwards admiring the vineyard. What this wine requires in price, it returns in delicious quality. The most interesting aspect is the delicate sweetness on the palate which blends seamlessly into the creamy texture. Quite an exceptional wine.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Spirits Review: Midnight Moon Moonshine Cherry Shine

I generally avoid flavored spirits, but last week I was drawn to the Midnight Moon Moonshine section at the local ABC store and decided to try their Cherry Shine ($24). Perhaps it was memories of sipping Hungarian Bonbon meggy likőr. The spirit is produced by North Carolina's Piedmont Distillers, Inc. and according to their website "is inspired by Junior Johnson’s legendary moonshine recipe". As a reminder, Johnson was a moonshine and NASCAR legend who transitioned from running moonshine to auto racing. In between her served time for his illegal activities but was eventually pardoned by President Reagan. In 2007 Johnson became part owner of Piedmont Distillers with founder Joe Michalek.

Piedmont distills in traditional copper pot stills and the base spirit for the Midnight Moonshine Cherry is made from a corn mash cut to 100 proof with filtered water. The only flavoring comes from real cherries added to the mason jar.  This is a strong whiskey, not necessarily hot, but nevertheless strong at 50% alcohol. There's a little heat on the nose but the sour cherries ease the heat on the palate  providing a tart and slightly sweet profile. And it's pleasantly sweet and tart, not syrupy. All in all it's rather addicting -- particularly the soaked cherries. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Vinkara Offers Two Tasty Turkish Wines to the U.S. Market

Wines from Turkey are getting more play in the U.S. market and one of these producers is Vinkara. This winery focuses on indigenous grapes grown on their estate in Central Anatolia, a region some consider the birthplace of wine. According to Vinkara's website, wine residue has been dated to the Hittites who lived in the region 15,000 years ago. And auxiliary evidence is that there are 1,200 indigenous grape varieties from Central Anatolia. The Gürsel family began operations in 2003 with Marco Monchiero an Italian Oenologist, joining the team in 2008. The winery's Central Anatolia estate is specifically located in the Kizhrmak River Basin near the village of Kalecik. At 2,000 feet above seal level, there is plenty of nighttime cooling to retain acids, little rainfall and sandy and limestone soils. This property quite obviously focuses on Kalecik Karasi, a red wine grape which originated in the area.  A second indigenous grape they produce is the white wine grape Narince which originated from the Tokat region to the north. The Erbaa region within the Tokat province has a similar altitude as Kalecik with porous sandy and clay soils.  The winery sent me to of these wines to sample and in general were quite pleasing. The downside is that they are both on the high SRP side for a Turkish wine but worth a look for the adventurous.

Narince Reserve 2012 ($27, 13.5%) - aged for 14 months in on lees in small Burgundy barrels and then aged a further six months in bottle before release. The nose is very floral followed by a creamy grapefruit profile, some minerals, and decent acids.

Kalecik Karasi Reserve 2012 ($25, 13.5%)  - also aged for 14 months in on lees in small Burgundy barrels and then aged a further six months in bottle before release. The wine is very fruit forward, with an herbaceous cough drop like cherry flavor. But I use that descriptor in a positive way. The tail is easy and approachable.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Finca Hispana Representing Spain's Rich and Diverse Wine Culture

Spain's wine culture is as rich and diverse as any country and one brand attempting to capture this complete image is Finca Hispana. They produce wines from indigenous varieties grown in ten unique regions from Rioja to Priorat and from Cava to Sherry. And the varieties include Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cariñena, Monastrell (Mourvedre) and Garnacha Blanca. Each Finca Hispana wine showcases not only the region and grape variety, but also the winemakers - who are displayed proudly on each label.  In 2015 these wines started arriving in the United States and are priced very modestly at $15. I recently received a care package and here are the highlights.

FH Garnacha-Carignan-Syrah - The blend consists of 40% Garnacha, 40% Carignan, 20% Syrah all from vines aged between 30-60 years old in DO Monsant - the center of Catalonia and surrounding DOQ Priorat. This complex but approachable wine is produced by Eugènia Guasch López.

FH Garnacha Barrica, 2011 D.O. Carinena - José Maria Valero tends 100 year old vines in Cariñena, situated on the high plains of the ancient Kingdom of Aragon in northern Spain. The wine starts with a creamy mouthful of dark cherries which leads to mild acids and easy tannins. My favorite.

FH Castrijo Joven, 2012 DOC Rioja - José Ayala Salazar began working in his father’s vineyard at the age of six. Now he works 40-80 years old vines in the Labastida region, the highest and most northern area in Rioja. The wine stresses bright berry fruit followed by a creamy texture and subtle tannins.

FH Castrijo Joven 2014 Rioja Tempranillo - Also located in Labastida, this family vineyard is now tended by Aintxane Prieto Uriarte and her husband. This is a vibrant wine; mint and chocolate, easy tannins and very approachable.

FH Cuvee 2012 Jumilla Monastrell - José Floreal Jimeniz Joulie was born during the the Spanish civil war and tended vineyards because he couldn't attend school. 70 years later he still works every day in Jumilla's desert like conditions. His vines are nearly 100 years old and survive on less than 10 inches of rain per year in the southeast corner of Spain. This is a big spicy wine; it needs to breathe; to allow the textured tannins to settle down.

FH Monastrell Joven, 2012 D.O. Jumilla - Another wine from Jumilla this one produced by Daniel Guerrero Cruz. It is also a full bodied wine, but not as big as the Cuvee. Instead, there's more jaminess and ripe fruit.