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 - 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 addition in October 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 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)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Quad from Miner Family Winery

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Wine Dinner with Rioja's CVNE Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Holistic Farm Winery in Montgomery County Maryland: Rocklands Farm

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

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

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