Friday, February 17, 2017

Otis Gibbs - Mount Renraw and Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey

I've been following folkster Otis Gibbs since hearing The Darker Side of Me - a song I was convinced was done by Johnny Cash. This year Gibbs released his seventh album, Mount Renraw, which includes similarly meaningful songs - simply performed but complex in thought. The mid section is the strength of this album starting with Sputnik Monroe - another Johnny Cash style ballad. This song tells the story of wrestler Roscoe Monroe Brumbaugh who single handily desegregated sporting events in Memphis. One night he refused to wrestle unless the black patrons could sit anywhere and not just in the balcony.  Empire Hole honors all working fathers  and contains the enshrining line:  "there's a graveyard my Daddy now calls home". The song also references how Gibss' native Indiana was the source for the limestone used to build the Empire State Building (Indiana limestone is the nation's stone as it was also used in building the Pentagon, Washington National Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, the Biltmore Estate, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Ellis Island -- among many other notable structures). The album continues with Blues for Diablo and its haunting fiddle and 800 Miles with the soothing fiddle and simple guitar.


I paired Mount Renraw with the Maryland produced Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey ($40) - a working man's whiskey despite the fact that the distillery is owned by Maryland native and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank. Eventually the rye will be sourced from Plank's Sagamore Farm in Glyndon, Maryland and distilled in Baltimore but for now they are bottling from the infamous MGP of Indiana located in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. The 2 year aged whiskey is a blend of "two rye recipes (one that is high rye-based and another that is low rye-based)" and is cut to 83 percent using Indiana limestone rich water. The nose is noticeably spicy and caramel which carries over into the middle mouth where it remains through the smooth finish.  A very nice pairing of music and rye whiskey.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Cris Jacobs - Dust to Gold with Heavy Seas 21 Anniversary Ale

Many of you may be familiar with Chris Jacobs as the front-man for the jam band The Bridge. However, since that band went on hiatus five years ago, Jacobs has segued into a successful solo career as showcased by his latest release Dust to Gold. Although the album was released a few months ago, I revisited it while consuming the Heavy Seas Brewing 21 Anniversary Ale. This is a high octane (10.5% abv) Imperial Rye ESB which was aged 60 days in  used Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey barrels. The result is an incredibly smooth beer, malty but balanced and the heat dissipates with a slightly spicy finish.

Dust To Gold is also mellow and spicy containing a mixture of soul, gospel, and acoustic and electric blues punctuated with Jacob's "whiskey soaked vocals". I enjoyed all the tracks but pay special attention to Kind Women, Hallelujah Hustler, Cold Carolina, and Leaving Charm City. Cheers to Baltimore's string music and beer scene.

Monday, February 6, 2017

History, Hiking, Wine, Cider, and Mead in Maryland's Antietam Highlands #Wine Trail

The Maryland Wine Association has clustered wineries into several wine trails with one, the Antietam Highlands Wine Trail, located not far from Washington DC -- just northwest of Frederick. The trail encompasses the South Mountain (2,140 feet high above the Potomac River), five national parks, 10 state parks, more than 30 museums, as well as the historic Antietam National Battlefield - sadly the bloodiest single day of battle in U.S. history. From Frederick head west on 340 towards Harpers Ferry to reach Big Cork VineyardsDistillery Lane Ciderworks, as well as the Gathland State Park between the two. Stopping at the state park is highly recommended in order to hike parts of the Appalachian Trail and visit the War Correspondents Arch plus the George Alfred Townsend museum. Many may notice that the ruins and woods within the park were used in the Blair Witch Project.

The first stop was to  Distillery Lane Ciderworks, producers of several extremely unique hard ciders. This seven year old operation lies on a historic farm that was used by Union soldiers as a camp site before Antietam. The Miller family purchased the property in 2001 and planted an apple orchard with cider, bitter, and eating apples. On my visit there were six ciders in the tasting room, a combination of sparkling, still, and barrel aged. The tasting started with the Celebration and Rio sparkling ciders, the first a dry and flavorful and the second aged in used A. Smith Bowman Distillery rye whiskey barrels. I bonded with this cider, the rye subtle but adding texture and slight spice. The Jefferson is their flagship still cider, made from the Newtown Pippin and named after our third President who preferred the Newton - aka the Albemarle Pippin. This is a solid cider, flavorful, depth, tart, and dry. The Kingston Black is another 100% varietal but with a touch of sugar that is balanced with the apple's natural acidity.  The Scrumpy is very unique, an English cider that is cloudy, funky, and slightly effervescent. The tasting concluded with the Fireside, apple wine infused with spices. A very nice lineup. I left with the Rio and Scrumpy in bag.

Big Cork Vineyards is only a ten minute drive from Distillery Lane and its easy to site this impressive facility from the road. The winery opened several years ago after Randy Thompson hired Dave Collins first to scour a vineyard site and then lured him from Breaux Vineyards as the winemaker.  From previous tastings,  the wines - made from 100% estate fruit - have been delicious - although I have not experienced the breadth of their diverse portfolio.  This day the whites were all 2015 vintages starting with the Chardonnay ($24) -- slightly buttery, but allowing the characteristic fruit flavor to shine. The Viognier ($22) was also as expected with floral, stone fruit, and velvety characters. On the off-dry side, the Vidal Blanc ($16) came across drier with its bright acids and the Russian Kiss ($22), a blend of three Russian varieties and Muscat, was fantastic. Moving to the 2014 vintages of red wines, the Meritage ($28) was solid, but the highlights were the Cabernet Franc ($36) and Nebbiolo ($42) - a Breaux favorite as well. The later sucked the mouth dry and with the amble acidity should lay down for quite sometime. The CF was full bodied, full of dark black fruit, some velvety texture, and noticeable tannins. Another that should age nicely. Finally, at the Winter Wine Festival I sampled their 100% estate grown raspberry Black Cap Port ($46) and it is all raspberries - with the brandy fortification taking a back seat.

We stayed so long at Big Cork I was unable to visit Orchid Cellar Meadery & Winery, which is located about 10 minutes northeast. The winery is the source for the best mead in the state - particularly the Hunter ($24). Next trip, as well as Mazzaroth Vineyard. And come April another cider house joins the trail with the opening of Willow Oaks Craft Cider and Wine. As always theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App will guide you to these destinations.

Monday, January 30, 2017

2017 Maryland Winter Wine Showcase

The Maryland Wineries Association just held their 2017 Winter Wine Showcase at the Baltimore B&O Railroad Museum. As the name indicates this event provides an opportunity for Maryland wineries to showcase two of their best wines during the Roundhouse Tasting. The tasting occurred under the museum's B&O Roundhouse dome and amidst the largest collection of historic trains in the country. The showcase also included a Sparkling Wine Reception featuring five tasty sparkling wines.

Overall, the tasting was fantastic -- starting with the setting. The B&O Railroad Museum is filled with unique and interesting pieces and information culminating in the rotunda housing the historic trains. Second, the wines poured demonstrated once again that the Maryland wine industry is improving both in the quality of wines and diversity of the varietals. Almost the entire European continent was represented as we started in Spanish Galicia and Albarino, then roamed through the Italian Piedmont with Barbera, northwards to Austria and Gruner Veltliner, before settling in the Rhone Valley with Viognier, and Syrah.  These grape varieties were virtually nonexistent in the Old Line State a decade ago. But Boordy Vineyards, Port of Leonardtown Winery, Great Shoals Winery, Crow Farm and Vineyard, Old Westminster Winery,  Black Ankle Vineyards, Catoctin Breeze Vineyard, and Big Cork Vineyards and others are proving that these grapes can excel in the diverse Maryland micro-climates.

That being said, Chardonnay is still a major player with the Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard 2014 Chardonnay Reserve ($30) my favorite of the evening. (Their 2013 EVOE! red blend ($41) was also well received.)  And Rocklands Farm and Turkey Point Vineyard showed Chardonnay based blends that were fresh, tasty, and affordable - the 2015 White Oak ($23) and  2015 Lighthouse White ($24) respectively.  A few other notable wines were the Vineyards At Dodon Sauvignon Blanc ($24), the Layton's Chance Vineyard and Winery 2014 Reserve Norton ($27), which was void of any astringency and jammy characters, the Chateau Bu De Bohemia Manor Farm.barrel sample Cabernet Franc (a phenomenal wine albeit soon to be an expense wine at $75), and The Urban Winery's 2015 Bourbon Barrel Aged Merlot ($25). Whereas this wine was a blend of traditional oak and bourbon aged Merlot, I actually preferred the 100% bourbon aged Merlot that was available as well. I almost forgot the Old Westminster Winery 2014 Cabernet Franc ($35) both here and during the tasting. A delicious wine.  Because of the breadth in quality I am overlooking several wines but rest assured if you plan a trip to Maryland wine country with theCompass you will not be disappointed. Cheers.


Friday, January 20, 2017

The Infamous Stringdusters - Laws Of Gravity & Devils Backbone Brewing Company

Grammy nominated The Infamous Stringdusters (Andy Hall - dobro, Andy Falco - guitar, Chris Pandolfi - banjo, Jeremy Garrett - fiddle, and Travis Book - upright bass) -- are synonymous to good music and good beer. Their music is a fusion of what I would call campfire dancing music and contemporary newgrass. As for beer, think the Charlottesville beer scene and Devils Backbone Brewing Company - the former host venue for The Festy Experience music festival. Here's a video of Travis discussing both beer and music at the inaugural Festy many years ago. And if you plan to attend the 2017 Festy (October 5-8 and now located at the Nelson County Preserve) expect to hear plenty of music from Laws of Gravity, The Stringdusters latest release which dropped January 13th.

In this release the band returns to their.progressive bluegrass roots with a theme of the freedom as a result of life on the road. Something they should know rather well.  Rotating lead vocals, solos, and tight harmonies provide an expected and consistent bouquet. But there's also a touch of soulful blues with This Ol’ Building and Back Home, which in addition to Soul Searching and Sirens, lift the mid palette and are the strongest section of the album. The tail finishes with high energy effervescence with Let Me Know and I Run To You. Classic Stringdusters.

The one problem with this release, and for that matter all the Stringdusters' seven studio releases, is that it can never capture the spirit of their live performance. Case in point is Sirens. The instrumentals are tight - but I'm sure the band blows away audiences performing this song live. Fortunately there are plenty of upcoming tour dates to experience a fantastic live show. I'm targeting the January 27th show at the 9:30 Club.

My favorite pairing option for Laws of Gravity is this DBBC Adventure sampler twelve pack. It includesthe Flor De Luna Belgium Blonde Ale, Berliner Metro Weiss, Smokehouse Porter, and Single Hop IPA. I hit all cylinders when fueled with a Berliner Weiss or Smoked Porter - as do the Stringdusters often in Laws of Gravity. Cheers.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Spirits Review: Tenure Vodka

This 1.75 liter bottle Tenure Vodka was recently on sale at my local ABC store for $25. At the rate we go through vodka, why not give it a try. The Tenure is a Polish wheat vodka and a member of the Sazerac Company portfolio. That's about all the information I could find on it's background, although the label mentions a seven step distillation process - whatever that means. The vodka isn't bad, a little petrol while neat, but with a clean and honey flavored character. A drop of water and ice definitely dampens the alcohol and makes for a smoother sipper. Can't beat that price for an everyday vodka - particularly for mixing.

Friday, January 6, 2017

New Year's Eve with Carpenè Malvolti's 1868 Extra Dry Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

This past New Year's Eve the Carpenè Malvolti's 1868 Extra Dry Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG ($18.99)  was my sole libation - slowly sipping throughout the evening. I had received the bottle as a result of attending a seminar on the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG and saved it specifically for that evening. A good choose (sic). Carpenè Malvolti was founded in 1868 by pioneer Antonio Carpenè who was instrumental in building Prosecco's legacy. He established the region's first Oenological School in 1876, was the first to develop controlled systems for the charmat method, and most importantly, the first to label their wine “Prosecco”.

This specific Prosecco is 100% Glera harvested from vineyards in both Conegliano and Valdobbiadene - allowing for the Prosecco Superiore labelling as well as the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG. (Sparkling wine made outside of the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene region can only be labelled Prosecco)  This wine was produced using the Charmat method and weights in Extra-Dry (12-17 grams of sugar) as compared to Brut (0-12 grams). This means there's a degree of sweetness that accentuates the fruit flavors and is completely balanced by the acidity and effervescence of the wine's finish. A very delicious under $20 option. Cheers, and happy new year. 








Friday, December 30, 2016

Rum Review: Bowman Pioneer Spirit Colonial Era Dark Small Batch Caribbean Rum

I'm a big fan of the A. Smith Bowman Distillery Pioneer Spirit bourbons, so when I saw the Pioneer Spirit Colonial Era Dark Small Batch Caribbean Rum for sale at $25 750ml, I grabbed a bottle. The rum was distilled from molasses and barrel aged in the Caribbean by a small distiller. The rum was then imported and bottled in Bowman's Fredericksburg, Virginia distillery. This is one instance where I agree with the official tasting notes: coconut and vanilla followed by sweet molasses, honey and brown sugar. The finish is relatively smooth neat and that's how I recommend sipping. Adding ice or a drop of water definitely mellows the alcohol and adds nut flavors but the finish becomes quite weak. Overall, a decent rum.



"During the late 17th century, imported rum became exceedingly popular in Colonial America. Early estimates of rum consumption in those colonies suggested every settler drank an average of three imperial gallons of rum each year. To support this demand, a substantial trade was developed between the Caribbean and the American Colonies. This trade of sugar, slaves, molasses and rum was quite profitable. The Sugar Act in 1764 disrupted this trade and may have helped cause the American Revolution. Nevertheless, the popularity of rum continued. This Dark Imported Rum commemorates George Bowman and other early American Colonists".

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Locations Wine - America's Left Coast

Last month we were impressed with a sample of Dave Phinney's Locations French, Spanish, & Argentinian Wines and that reaction continued with three more wines - this time from America's left coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. Like the European versions, Phinney selected the grapes and regions to best represent each state in it's entirety -- with the exception of the Oregon wine which is a true representation of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.  In brief, these wines are delicious and at the SRP - a great value to consider.



OR4 Oregon Red Wine ($20) 100% Willamette Valley Pinot Noir aged ten months in French oak. Light bodied, cherry throughout, noticeable tannins and acids.

WA 4 Washinton Red Wine ($20) a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Petit Sirah and aged ten months in French and American oak. Delicious dark fruit, baking spices, and finishs with a very smooth tail.

CA4 California Red Wine ($20) a blend of Petite Sirah, Barbera, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Grenache harvested from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and the Sierra Foothills and aged ten months in French oak. Dark fruit and chocolate, velvety mid, easy structured finish. My favorite of the trio. Excellent.

Friday, December 23, 2016

#VABreweryChallenge: Port City Brewing Company (#51)

I don't visit Alexandria's Port City Brewing Company enough and in fact it's slightly embarrassing that this was my first trip to the brewery since starting the #VABreweryChallenge. But I'll blame it on the brewery itself by providing a steady and reliable distribution throughout the area. Why drive 15 miles in DC traffic when my local beer store stocks their entire lineup?  And this lineup has been particularly solid since opening day six years ago; if you want to know how a particularly beer style should taste like - this is your stop.

No wonder Port City was the GABF Small Brewery of the Year in 2015. They were one of the first to help resurrect the Belgium Wit and their Optimal Wit is spot on. Want a mocha Porter - get the Port City Porter. Their Downright® Pilsner is a non-bready and balanced Bohemian version and their Essential Pale Ale® is an everyday beer. I'm a contrarian when it comes to IPAs but if I had to drink one, the Monumental® IPA at only 57 IBU is my go to. These are the flagships brews so during my visit I turned to the Ways & Means® Session Rye IPA. I generally avoid session beers - although I prefer the low abv - because it seems most are weak beers that are dry hopped to add some character. Not so with the Ways & Means. The rye adds spicy complexity and the hops are not overwhelming. This is my All Day IPA. And safe travels vising any brewery using theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Wines of Chile and Snooth Present Carmenère Master Class

Carmenère, where to start? Originally from the Médoc region of Bordeaux, this Cabernet family grape was widely planted until the mid to late 1800s when it was wiped clean by Phylloxera and powdery mildew. Apparently the vines would prefer a warmer and drier climate than in SW France. When vineyards were replanted after the Phylloxera epidemic, Carmenère was ignored in favor of vines more suitable to the climate and this should have been the end of the story. However, viticulturists in Chile had mimicked Bordeaux when establishing that country's vineyards and had planted Carmenère alongside Merlot vines - perhaps thinking it was a clone.The grapes were harvested as a field blend and marketed as Merlot -- and Carmenère thrived in Chile's warm and dry environment.  In 1994, DNA analysis confirmed the grape's true identity and very soon marketed as Chile's signature grape. A similar situation also occurred in Northern Italy where Carmenère was thought to be a clone of Cabernet Franc but was confirmed to be otherwise in 1996 (See Carmenero - Ca' del bosco).  Today, the grape's plantings continue to expand beyond these two countries as it is being replanted in SW France and finding new homes in Oceania and the United States (California, Washington, and Virginia).

In 2016, International Carmenère Day (November 24th) fell on the American Thanksgiving holiday so Wines of Chile postponed a collaboration with Snooth until mid-December. During this Master Class, participants tasted through a large selection of Chilean (plus one Italian) Carmenère wines while learning about Chile's Central Valley wine region. The region is sub-divided into four smaller zones: Maipo Valley, Maule Valley, Curicó Valley, and Rapel Valley. The latter zone includes the famed Colchagua Valley - located on the foothills of the Andes and home to many of Chile's iconic wineries. Regarding exports to the United States, Carmenère is represented in about 30% of the blended wine, whereas as a single varietal it accounts for only 4% of U.S. imports. Here are the wines we sampled:

Cono Sur Bicicleta Carmenere Central Valley Chile 2015 ($9) 85% Carmenere and 15% other reds gives this wine a pepper, leathery nose, followed by a light bodied middle with easy yet noticeable tannin.  What a bargain at this price.

Casillero del Diablo Carmenere Reserva Central Valley Chile 2015 ($10) The "Cellar Devil"  starts with bell pepper and red fruit but fell a little flat on the finish.

Casas del Bosque Carmenere Reserva Rapel Valley 2015 ($11) Aged ten months in oak, this wine exudes big candied fruit, bright acids, a spicy finish, and lingering easy tannins. Another remarkable QPR.

Concha y Toro Serie Riberas Carmenere Gran Reserva Peumo 2014 ($14) This wine included 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and is part of the winery's Riverside vineyards from the Peumo Vineyard. It is a winner with it's rounded and herbaceous character and long spicy finish. Will become a household everyday wine.

Los Vascos Carmenere Grande Reserve Colchagua Valley 2013 ($18) Aged 12 months in French oak barrels, this wine is herbaceous and vege (peppers) with darker fruit; then a very smooth tail.

Apaltagua Red Blend Colchagua Valley Envero 2014 ($18) Comprised of 90% Carmenère and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon from 60+ year old vines located in the Colchagua Valley's Apalta region. Various oak regiments don't inhibit a lighter fruit profile and freshness. The Carmenère shines through.

Casa Silva Los Lingues Vineyard Carmenere Colchagua Valley 2014 ($20) Harvested from vines graowing at the foothills of the Andes at 1,100 feet, this is an elegant and well rounded wine. The 70 degree diurnal temperature variation also helps the grapes retain acidity adding brightness.  Very nice.

Colli Berici Oratorio di San Lorenzo Carmenere Riserva 2012 ($33) The 100% Italian Carmenere is from the Oratorio di San Lorenzo in Località San Germano dei Berici (Vicenza) which can now be labeled Carmenere Riserva D.O.C.. The wine matures for 18 months in oak and then another year in the bottle before release. This is a fantastic wine with dried fruit, dirt, then finishes with dark chocolate and structured tannins.

Montes Alpha Carmenere Colchagua Valley 2013 ($25) The flagship composed of 90% Carmenère and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and harvested from dry farmed vines in Apalta and Marchigüe. This wine has everything, sharp aromas, intense fruit followed by layers of texture and refreshing acidity and silky smooth tannins. Update 1/2/2017: Initially I had written "Just wish it fit more in line with my price range" when I thought the price was $52. In reality the correct SRP is $25.

Viña Maquis Viola Carmenere Colchagua Valley 2010 ($55) Includes 15% Cabernet Franc and is smokey throughout; which provides an interesting aspect. The grapes were harvested for their concentration (the smaller the size, the better)  and aged 14 months in French Oak after fermentation. Once the smoke profile subsides, a silky black fruit character emerges with smooth tannins.  The most intriguing of the bunch.

Purple Angel Colchagua Valley 2013 ($67) The 92% Carmenère and 8% Petit Verdot were harvest from Marchigüe and Apalta and aged 18 months in new French Oak after fermentation. Don't let that fool you into thinking this wine is overly oaked. The dark fruit shines worth in both texture and brightness. And the finish is oh so smooth. Recommended for those with a higher wine budget.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Blacksnake Meadery Hoppy Bee Brew - A Beer Drinkers Mead

Recently I discovered that my favorite Virginia mead producer, Blacksnake Meadery, had increased their distribution into Northern Virginia after finding a bottle of their Hoppy Bee Brew ($12) at Norms. Normally I have to venture down to southwestern Virginia - usually during Floydfest - in order to obtain a bottle. Incidentally proprietors Steve and Jo are avid music lovers and festival goers and I've bumped into them a few times in Floyd. The Hoppy Bee Brew is what you expect; a dry honey wine brewed with Cascade hops - which provide a little grapefruit character. Yet, the kicker is that each bottle is conditioned to provide a little carbonation to mimic a refreshing beer.  And for even more intensity, add a shot of rum.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Bourbon Review: Revisiting the Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star

Buffalo Trace's Ancient Age ($12-750ml) and the Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star ($16-750ml) were my entrance into bourbon many years ago.  The original Ancient Age has first introduced in 1946 when the distillery was known as the George T. Stagg Distillery. The 10 Star is a more recent label and is currently part of Buffalo Trace’s Mash #2. This mash is thought to be 13-15% rye and shared with Blanton’s, Hancock’s Presidential Reserve, and Elmer T. Lee, among others. At 90-proof and aged minimum 6 years, this is an easy sipper with noticeable honey in the nose and palate. There's also traces of vanilla and a bready rye character. The finish has little burn but lacks the complexity that I now favor in a neat bourbon. Thus, I recommend this value bourbon blended in a glass of eggnog and prefer others, such as the flagship Buffalo Trace, neat. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Find Mineral and Acid Driven Chardonnay with #PureChablis

Many, many years ago, I remember relatives at family reunions quaffing wine from plastic cups. One source was a large bottle labeled Chablis, a generic American description for a light, perhaps off-dry white wine. In no way did it refer to the Burgundian wine region. And in no way did it resemble the mineral and acid driven Chardonnay the French Chablis region is known. Unfortunately it is still possible today to find mis-labelled American Chablis as the 2005 agreement with the EU, that was intended to end this practice, included a grandfather clause for producers who had been using the name. Why???


The Chablis to enjoy is in reality 100% Chardonnay from cold-climate northern Burgundy. The coldness traps acidity whereas the 150 million year old soil of Kimmeridgian Limestone - loaded with fossilized oyster shells - imparts noticeable amounts of minerals.  Obviously this isn't your new world chardonnay. The Chablis region also maintains a Appellation D'Origine Controllee system with four classifications: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, and Chablis Grand Cru. The first two are broader in nature; while the second two consist of specific climats - or micro-terroirs.

During a #PureChablis tasting last week, Chef Ryan Hardy and Wine Director Arvid Rosengren of NYC's Carlie Bird restaurant lead a discuss of five Chablis wine and the appropriate food pairing for each. I will update this post with links to these pairings when they become available. In the meantime, here are the wines we tasted:

Petit Chablis, La Chablisienne, 2015 ($15) The Petit Chablis "village" appellation can be produced across all the communes in the Chablis region. Petit wines usually come from a slightly different type of soils, called Portlandian limestone.This wine starts with light apples and limes, then saline, and refreshing acids - a great value.

Chablis “Vauprin”, Roland Laventureux, 2014 ($26) - The appellation village of Chablis is produced in a specific list of communes. This "village" level wine is from a single vineyard and possesses tropical fruit and citrus, mint, chalky minerals, and fresh acids.  Very delicious. Food pairing: Razor Clams, Fennel, and Pickled Chiles

Chablis Premier Cru, Vaillons, Domaine Daniel Dampt, 2015 ($32) This wine is from the left bank of Chablis and in general, the Premier Crus add a layer of complexity and intensity. This wine has both plus stone fruit and melons, saline, and noticeable acids. Food pairing: Montauk Fluke, Espelette, Lime & Olio Nuovo

Chablis Premier Cru, Fourchaume, William Fèvre, 2014 ($45) This wine is from the right bank, right next to Grand Cru plots. Fourchaume is well known among Chablis lovers and for good reason. The wine is excellent: green apples and lemons, hefty dose of minerals, bombastic acids.

Chablis Grand Cru, Valmur, Jean-Claude Bessin, 2014 ($54) Chablis Grand Cru accounts for only 2% of Chablis production. As Rosengren noted, this wine is "both rounder and more muscular at the same time". It is fantastic: pineapple aroma, saline and minerals, rounder, chalky, and strong acids.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

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


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


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

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

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

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

Friday, December 2, 2016

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Five Wines From Garnacha Denominaciones de Origens

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Pre-Game at Morgantown's Chestnut Brew Works

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



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

Monday, November 21, 2016

'Tis the Season for Pinot

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2016

What is Prosecco? Or the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vettori: Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut ($16)

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

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

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

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

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