Saturday, April 21, 2018

Barefoot Wade Wanders into West Virginia's Abolitionist Ale Works

When traveling through Loudoun County wine country via Route 9 (Charles Town Pike) travelers eventually enter West Virginia crossing over the Appalachian Trail and Shendandoah River. This route leads to Charles Town, the seat of Jefferson County and colonial home of founder Charles Washington -- the youngest full brother of our first president. At the time still part of Virginia, this area was home to Charles' Happy Retreat as well as other estates owned by Washington's relations. Charles Town was also the scene of abolitionist John Brown's demise where he was tried for treason and ultimately hanged. On a more pleasant note, today the town is home to a few craft beverage producers including the appropriately named Abolitionist Ale Works.

The brewery's motto is that they "rebel against the status-quo of the beer industry" and this is portrayed through their diverse tap list.  Expect several versions of IPA's from a session to brett to heavily dry hopped ales. Abolitionist is also saison and sour heavy with three clear favorites:  the Harpers Berry Sour Ale conditioned with blueberries and raspberries, the Beverley Farmhouse Ale American Wild Ale fermented using wild yeast, and the Pale the Funky Saison which is a barrel aged Brett Saison with blueberries and blackberries. On the darker side they offered the Chocolate Reasonable Stout, their Reasonable dry Irish stout conditioned with chocolate and the Dirty Beard, an Imperial Stout aged six months in Rum barrels. This last beer was fantastic, moderately heavy at 9%; otherwise I would have finished the tap myself.

The purpose of our visit was not only to visit a new brewery but also to listen to the one-man band antics of Barefoot Wade - "feel good music from a no shoes wearin' hippy beach bum kinda guy" .We've become somewhat groupees every summer in Ocracoke, North Carolina - Wade's home base. With island gigs on short supply during this long and cold winter he headed north to tour the mid-Atlantic inoculating himself one evening at Abolitionist. Alternating between classics and originals he sets the tone with an island beat steel drum, then adds bass and more percussion on a loop, before leading into the main tune. There's plenty of prep and focus before each song and Wade nails it - pretty much like Abolitionist Ale Works and their rebellious beers. Cheers and safe travels on theCompass Craft Beverage Finder.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Trio of Hess Select White Wine

Last month we experienced a delicious wine lunch with representatives of the Hess Family Wine Estates where we focused primarily on their Napa Valley estate wines released under the Hess Collection label. Our party was also introduced to the winery's super market brand, the Hess Select, but in name only. But soon afterwards I received a trio of samples that showcase these value wines made from grapes sourced from throughout the Golden State and Argentina. In general, these are well made wines, reasonably priced per quality, and should be widely available. Cheers.

California Pinot Gris 2017 ($13) - This is a new entry into the Hess Select portfolio sourced from vineyards throughout California to achieve, according to wine maker Dave Guffy, a "fruit forward expression of Pinot Gris". Guffy continues that the grapes are fermented at cold temperatures which accentuates the fruit expression further. This was my favorite of the three, a light wine with lemons and stone fruit from start to finish with refreshing acidity. Nicely done.

Monterey Chardonnay 2016 ($13) - Hess has been producing this wine since the early 1990s using fruit harvested from Monterey County. Dave Guffy relates that the ocean breezes from the Pacific Ocean allow the grapes to "retain their tropical and fruit forward edge" and to add weight 25% of the wine is aged in new French oak. This is one I enjoyed more as the wine warmed; too cold and the wine feels over extracted with the oak dominating the flavor. However, as the wine opens and warms, the oak starts to dissipate allowing the green apple, lemon, and tropical notes to appear.

North Coast, Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($13) - The North Coast AVA encompasses several sub-AVAs and grape-growing regions in six counties located north of San Francisco: Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Solano. Lake and Mendocino counties were the sources for this wine and Duffy says the later provides Sauvignon Blanc grapes with grassy notes and the inland Lake county more tropical and ripe flavors. This is another one that benefits from warming as the tropical aromas and flavors are overpowering when cold. As the wine warms the grassy and lemon characters begin to add balance to this light and very refreshing summer sipper.

Monday, April 16, 2018

#MalbecWorldDay with Argentine Wine from Salta, Valle de Uco, and Patagonia

Wines of Argentina has designated Friday April 20th as Malbec World Day so why don't we delve into the world's most popular producer of Malbec wine. In the land of contrast there are three major wine producing regions: Salta, Valle de Uco (in Mendoza), and Patagonia. The first two are high altitude regions with the Uco Valley anywhere from 2,800 to 5,600 feet and Salta, the most extreme, up to 10,000 feet above sea level. The cold temperatures usually associated with higher elevations are mitigated by the relatively warmer temperatures from it's lower latitude and the increased levels of sunlight and UV exposure. On the other hand, Patagonia averages only 1,000 feet but has it's own extreme features. This is a cooler desert climate that is warmed by the "La Zonda" winds driving through the eastern slopes of the Andes. Thus, in all three regions there is a strong diurnal temperature variation, plenty of sunlight, and well drained soils - translating to well formed wine grapes. And in preparation for Malbec World Day I received several samples of Argentinian Malbec wine.

Colomé Malbec Salta 2015 ($25) - Bodega Colomé is one of the oldest working wineries in Argentina and home to the highest vineyards in the world in Salta's Calchaquí Valley. The winery was established in 1831 when the vineyards were first planted on original rootstock imported from Bordeaux -- and these vines are still bearing fruit today.  Now a member of the Hess Family Wine Estates, Colomé consistently produces well made wine like this dense, full bodied, and velvety edition. The wine's finish shows white pepper, acids, and noticeable, but approachable tannins.

Amalaya Malbec Salta 2016 ($16) - a blend of 85% Malbec 85%, 10% Tannat, and  5% Petit Verdot. Bodega Amalaya wines began as an experiment at Bodega Colomé in order to find alternative sourcing and varieties for Malbec and Torrontés blends. Donald Hess instructed his researchers to seek land where no vines had ever been planted the workers labelled the quest using the Inca expression Amalaya meaning 'Hope for a Miracle'. This wine is a great value and is fruit forward with dusty, spicy, and vanilla characters from mild oak treatment (25% aged 8 months in French Oak).

2015 Susana Balbo Signature Valle de Uco Mendoza Malbec ($20). This wine is from the Uco Valley's Altamira wine region which is at the southern tail of the Uco Valley on the banks of the Tunuyan river. The location's hot sunny days  The vines' location promotes ripening, adding weight and complexity to the wines and the cooler nights provide the development of acidity and aromatics. This wine displays these characters with ripe juicy black fruit, structure, slight spice and chalk, and a fresh yet silky finish featuring subtle tannins

2015 Domaine Bousquet Malbec Grande Reserve ($25) - This 85% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Syrah blend is made from vineyards planted in the most northern and highest elevation (4,000 ft) in the Uco Valley: Tupungato, Alto Gualtallary. These conditions breed acidity and skin tannins which are prevalent in this organic wine. There is also plenty of structured velvety texture, floral aromas, and dark dried berry flavors.  A fantastic wine.

2012 Alta Vista Single Vineyard Alizarine ($50). Alta Vista was the first Argentinian winery to produce single vineyard wines using a vineyard first planted in 1927 and located at 3,000 feet in Luján de Cuyo. This region was the first in Argentina to be officially recognized as an appellation and is situated in a valley just south of Mendoza City. The hot and dry climate helps produce delicious wine like this one here with notes of chocolate and dark fruit, good structure and very approachable tannins.

2012 Fleches De Los Andes Gran Corte ($45) This Malbec 60%, Cabernet Franc 20%, Syrah 20% blend is from Tunuyán, located in the middle of the Valle de Uco on the eastern side of the valley. The alluvial soils are ideal for viticulture and the irrigation water is provided by the nearby river. The wine starts extremely tight and tannic so decant liberally. Once the wine opens baking spices and black pepper appear and the structured texture eventually evolves to create a deep and balancedl wine.

2017 Altapaco Malbec Familia Schroeder Patagonia ($15) This wine from Familia Schroeder is from San Patricio del Chanar, a new viticultural region in Patagonia, South America's southernmost wine-producing region. In geographic size, the region covers a vast area, nearly twice the size of California, across southern Argentina and Chile. The arid desert receives irrigation help from Andes melt water which flows through several rivers.  "Vines stressed by these year-round high winds and the free-draining alluvial soils tend to grow smaller berries with thicker skins, leading to a higher concentration of sugars, acids and tannins". Alpataco refers to a thorny bush that the winery says "embodies the spirit of resilience needed to prosper in the Patagonian plains". This is a very fresh wine, with approachable and easy tannins that are preceded with bright red and tart cherry juice. Here's your everyday Malbec World Day wine. Cheers.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

#VABreweryChallenge: #58 - Ono Brewing Company

Chantilly now has its second craft brewery as Ono Brewing Company joins Mustang Sally's to offer craft beer near the intersection of Route 18 and Route 50. Ono means "delicious" or "tasty" in Hawaiian which is one of many ways the winery honors owners Scott and Cyndi Hoffman's ties to the Aloha State. Another link back to Hawaii are several beer styles such as the top seller Manako Wheat Ale brewed with mangoes and the Paradise IPA infused with pineapple juice. There's also the Pau Hana Pale Ale, a solid ale balanced with Motueka, Rakau, Kazbek, Kohatu, and Saphir New Zealand hops. Finally the brwery offers the Haole White Ale infused with cherry juices. This is a refreshing summer beer, neither tart nor sour, just flavorful. Two more I enjoyed were the Hellyes Lager and Hunker Down Brown both excellent examples of their respective styles.

Ono also utilizes the Pour My Beer system allowing customers "to take control of their own beer tasting experience". This works by visitors obtaining a RFID card which they then use to pour themselves up to a pint of beer and being charged by the ounce. There are many benefits to this system. First, consumers can experiment with multiple small pours of different beers so as not to purchase a pint or sampler that they eventually dislike. It also eliminates choke points at the bar where a handful of staff are attempting to service a large crowd. Finally it gives customers freedom to create their own samples or even blend beers to develop a new style. And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to Ono Brewing and other craft beverage destinations. Cheers.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Durham, Craft Beer, Lemurs, and American Tobacco

Durham North Carolina is near the tail end of the Route 15 Wine Road, but instead of wine, this region is creating a craft beer heritage. It is also the home of Duke University, named after its major benefactor tobacco industrialist Washington Duke. Duke's son, James Buchanan Duke was also a major benefactor to the university as well as the owner of the American Tobacco Company (the successor to his Father's tobacco company) which eventually controlled over 90% of the American cigarette market by the early 1900s. Duke also founded a power company that grew into Duke Energy and supplied power to the hundreds of area textile mills and tobacco manufacturing plants. Today the former American Tobacco warehouses are a major redeveloped area in downtown Durham adjacent to the Durham Bulls stadium and several craft breweries, distilleries, Bull City Ciderworks, and Honeygirl Meadery. In fact, the Bull Durham Beer Co. is the only craft beer company located inside a minor league ballpark.

Another attraction in Durham is the Duke Lemur Center (DLC), "the world’s largest and most diverse collection of lemurs – Earth’s most threatened group of mammals – outside of Madagascar". The DLC is situated on 80 wooded acres two miles from the main Duke University campus and provides a living laboratory where lemurs and their close relatives could be studied intensively and non-invasively. It's budget is partly funded through private tours of the facility such as a Walking with Lemurs tour where our future primatologist spent 90 minutes up close with a trio of Crown Lemurs. The tour also included meeting Mongoose Lemurs, Collared Lemurs, Red Ruffed Lemurs, Black & White Ruffed Lemurs and Aye-Ayes.

After visiting the DLC, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder showed Durham's seven craft breweries were are only a few minutes away so we headed straight for Fullsteam Brewery for lunch and beer. The brewery's mantra is to "brew distinctly Southern beer that fosters agricultural pride and prosperity in a post-tobacco North Carolina. By buying local to brew local, we aim to improve the quality of life of local farmers, foragers, and agricultural entrepreneurs. We seek to pioneer a Southern Beer pint at a time." That translates to using at least 10% local ingredients such as the 30% local Humidity Pale Ale - brewed with local triticale, a wheat/rye hybrid. This is a solid beer, full of flavor and balanced seamlessly with bittering hops. My favorite was the Paycheck Pilsner brewed with southern sourced barley and corn with a tasteful and refreshing German style (with a six pack coming home).  There are also more unique beers in Fullsteam's portfolio such as a half dozen IPA styles; the Working Man's Lunch, a brown ale brewed to mimic the southern tradition of RC Cola and a Moonpie; the Carver Sweet Potato Lager, made from 200 pounds of North Carolina and named to honor Dr. George Washington Carver; and the Coffee Is For Closers Porter - inspired by iced coffee and made with Muddy Dog Sumatran Coffee. There's a lot of experimentation going on here.

There's also a  lot of experimentation going on at Ponysaurus Brewing where I would recommend visiting in the evening to enjoy the fire pit -- and the Fig Saison. That's what attracted me to the brewery and the beer is complex and delicious. Similarly, the Oyster Saison is as complex but in the mineral direction. The Ponysaurus Réserve Ale is a Belgian Dark Strong Ale featuring plenty of brown malts and Belgian candy syrup made in-house; the 10% abv is never felt. Finally, the Rye Pale Ale rounded out my sampler, light spices and balanced bitterness. Well done.

The final beer of note was the Van Gogh Breakfast Stout from Durty Bull Brewing Company.  The was poured a couple spots around town and is brewed with with local coffee from Joe Van Gogh. It is truly a delicious breakfast stout which could easily replace the  warmer staple. Cheers to the Bulls.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The 2018 Odyssey Greek Wine Tour - From Agiorgitiko to Xinomavro

"When I wander through my Lemnian vines to see if they’re ripe yet –for they are the first of Nature’s fruits to ripen, those vines from Lemnos…", Aristotle The Peace
The Lemnia grape, now known as Limnio, is the oldest Greek variety still in existence. Today the ancient grape is cultivated in the Northern wine regions of the Halkidiki Peninsula of Greek Macedonia, Thrace, and Thessaloniki - the regional home of Ktima Gerovassiliou. This winery was one of three Northern Greek producers along with a trio from the Peloponnese region and the Greek Islands to participate in the 2018 Odyssey Greek Wine Tour of eight U.S. cities. During their Washington D.C. stop, I was introduced to Limnio through Gerovassiliou's 2013 Avaton ($50) - a red blend of 50% Limnio, 25% Mavrotragana and 25% Mavroudi. This is a fantastic wine, earthy and structured, creeping tannins and juicy acids. Ktima Gerovassiliou is also known for their 2016 Malagousia ($23), a white wine grape that Vangelis Gerovassiliou saved from extinction in 1976.

Most of the wineries showcased wine made from both indigenous and international grape varieties as the latter are popular in both the export and domestic tourism markets. It must also be easier to sell a delicious Gerovassiliou Viognier or Chardonnay as opposed to the difficult to pronounce indigenous Limnio, Mavrotragana, Mavroudi, and Malagousia grapes. Or even the Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko, Mavrodaphne, Sideritis, Vidiano, and Xinomavro grapes.

However, we will focus on the wines from indigenous grapes like the Ktima Biblia Chora 2012 Biblinos Red ($27) and 2016 Biblinos Rosé ($23), both made from a yet to be named grape from northern Greece. This winery opened in 2001 on the southern slopes of Mount Pangeon as a partnership between Vassilis Tsaktsarlis and Ktima Gerovassiliou. The grapes for the Biblinos were found growing wild on Mount Pangeon which were later cultivated at the winery's estate. DNA tests revealed a Greek heritage with "genetic traits similar to modern Greek varietals, but it is also quite different, making it more of a distant relative.
In other words, DNA testing showed that it is an older Greek varietal that has not been cultivated in more recent times". A great story for two delicious wines. Tsaktsarlis also planted the white Cretan grape Vidiano in the Pangeon mountainside which then is blended with 8% Assyrtiko to create the floral and acidic 2016 Sole Vidiano ($27).   Also look for their 100% Assyriko 2016 Areti White ($23) and 100% Agiorgitiko 2010 Areti Red ($29).  The final Northern winery was Domaine Katsaros, a small family enterprise established in 1985 operating near Mount Olympus. Second generation wine maker Evripidis Katsaros was available to pour their 2014 Valos ($24) made from 100% estate Xinomavro. This estate is located 2,460 feet above sea level and is reflected in this soft, yet fresh and earthy wine.

Moving to the Peloponnese region, sisters Erifili and Dimitra were also on hand representing Parparoussis Winery, which was founded by their father Athanassios Parparoussis in 1974. The winery's primary goal is to promote Greek indigenous varieties with the wines showcasing their unique character. Whereas the 100% Sideritis 2016 Gifts of Dionysos ($20) was very light, the 2016 Petite Fleur Rosé ($20) was very flavorful with strawberries morphing into refreshing acids. Their 2016 Assyrtiko ($23) combines juicy acids with abundant mouthfeel from five months on lees. It's somewhat similar to the velvety 2014 Gifts of Dionysos Cava ($23) which includes 25% Athiri. Another well made structured wine is their 2012 Nemea Reserve ($45) from 100% Agiorgitiko which is very similar to the Biblia Chora Areti Red. Their final red was the very unique 2010 Taos ($35), 100% Mavrodaphne that is both dirty and earthy combined with a smooth cherry finish. The winery also produces a dessert Mavrodaphne where the grape branches are bent to stop circulation and to keep the grapes concentrated. This delicious wine is all raisins and figs.

Also in Peloponnese, Ktimatselepos was pouring several wines made from international grapes but also a couple still wines and méthode champenoise sparkling wines using the Moschofilero grape. This is an aromatic white wine grape from the Ktimatselepos's home in Mantinia. Giannas Tselepos founded his namesake winery in 1989 and in 2003 he purchased Ktima Driopi in Nemea that features that region's signature grape: Agiorgitiko. First however, the Amalia Brut NV ($25) and 2013 Amalia Vintage ($40) sparkling wines are both very refreshing with the vintage version having an almond character. And the 2016 Blanc de Gris ($24) provides nice texture and mouthfeel for a light and acidic wine. As for the Agiorgitiko, the 2013 Driopi Nemea Reserve ($34) is excellent with a full bodied creamy palate and structured tannins. The less expensive 2015 Driopi Nemea ($19) still provides plenty of solid fruit flavors with similar integrated tannins.

The Greek Islands comprised the final region with Giannas Tselepos representing Santorini's Canava Chrissou Estate in addition to Venetsanos Winery and Rhous Tamiolakis winery in Crete. Starting with the Cretan winery, I slowly flowed through their four wines starting with the bright and floral 2016 Estate White ($18) a blend of 80% Muscat of Spina and 20% Vidiano then on to the spicy and textured 2015 Skipper White ($23).  This wine is comprised of predominately Vidiano with 30% Plyto --another ancient grape variety brought back from extinction. As for reds, the 2016 Estate Red ($19) is a jammy blend of 90% Kotsifali and 10% Syrah, whereas the 2015 Skipper Red ($24) is a co-fermentation of 70% Kotsifali and 30% Mandilaria. This fruit forward wine ends with subtle tannins - these are two easy drinking reds.

Assyrtiko is the signature grape of Santorini in each of the examples were fresh, saline driven, and full of racy acids. Each of the Canava Chrissou 2016 Santorini ($34) and 2016 Laoudia ($50) as well as the Venetsanos 2016 Santorini ($37) and 2016 Nykteri ($40) are highly recommended. Venetsanos also offers a 2016 Mandilaria ($37) that has slightly more body but similar refreshing acids.

Cheers to the Odyssey Greek Wine Tour and don't hesitate to try wines from indigenous Greek varieties. They may be impossible to pronounce, but well worth the time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Route 15 Wine Road: Warrenton's Powers Farm & Brewery & Granite Heights Winery

Just south of Gainsville, through Warrenton and into Culpeper, Route 15 merges with Route 29 and runs through rolling hills in one corner of Virginia's wine and horse country. This is Fauquier County where the roads and rail lines were major trade thoroughfares as well as a highly prized transportation hubs fought over during the Civil War. During one of these battles, Bristoe Campaign (October - November 1863), troops fought just east of Warrenton in Auburn - a short detour off the main road.

While navigating this detour look for Powers Farm & Brewery in Midland, a very unique craft brewery. As it's name suggests, Powers is a working farm and not just hops, just look at their Produce CSA. As for their field beers they use on-farm ingredients such as hops, herbs, fruits, vegetables, plus foraged bark and berries. Each of these non-standard ingredients add different characters to the beer but never overwhelm the base flavor. For instance The Saxon Schwarzbier is brewed with farm grown chicory which enhances the dark malt flavors with adds even more roastiness.  The Birch Brown Ale includes black birch tree trimmings that are added three separate times during the brewing process. This adds a little spice up front that balances the slightly sweet malty tail. Two other original and unique recipes are The Pollinator Irish Red Ale and The Heirloom Belgium Dark Ale. The former is brewed using seven different malts plus native Virginia Hawthorne berries which provide a sour cherry character to to the mixture. And the dark ale is brewed with farm grown dried heirloom tomatoes melding peppers and sweetness to the dark and yeasty character.  Finally, the Hibiscus Blonde Ale provides slightly tart and floral attributes to create a very refreshing beer. Now you can understand why Powers Farm & Brewery is a highly recommended detour off Route 15.

Not too far away lies another farm, the 200 acre farm land of Granite Heights Winery in which Luke and Toni Kilyk purchased in 1997. With the assistance of Lucie Morton they planted vines in order to leverage Luke's undergraduate degree in chemistry and home wine making experience. The first wines using all estate grapes were released in 2010 and since then the winery has become well known for their Petit Manseng and Lomax Reserve Bordeaux blend. I was able to taste verticals of these wines during a recent vitiCULTURE trade tasting. Petit Manseng is generally produced in a dry or off-dry style and the Kilyk's let the harvest dictate the style of each vintage. In 2015 the grapes were harvested a little early and the wine vinified dry. This 2015 Petit Manseng ($22) is light and fresh, tart, with a tropical - pineapple character. The following year's 2016 Petit Manseng ($19) was made off-dry and weighs in at 4% residual sugar. However, the wine comes across much drier as a result of the grape's abundant inherent acidity; it also shows less aroma and the flavor is more orange-citrus than tropical. Two completely different wines and I preferred the dry 2015 version.

The Lomax Reserve wines are only produced in exceptional years and since the winery stresses quality over cash flow, the Kilyk's will age a vintage in the bottle until the wine is ready for release. In this regard the 2013 Lomax Reserve was released before the 2012 vintage. A wise decision as the '12 joined the '10 as Governor's Cup Case Club wines. During our tasting we sampled all three of these years starting with the 2013 Lomax Reserve ($24) a blend of 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon aged 20 months in American oak. This wine has a solid mid-palate with a soft finish. The 2012 Lomax Reserve ($35) is the winery's current release and is a blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot aged 20 months in various oak casks. It is a delicious wine with bright cherries, texture, integrated tannins, and a long soft landing. Well done. Finally, the Governor's Cup Case Club 2010 Lomax Reserve ($59) is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc aged 15 months in mostly American oak. This is still a big wine, much more tannins so swirl away. There's a big smokey aroma, spices and dark fruit, and finishing chewy and mouth drying tannins.

There are other wineries and breweries in the Warrenton area and we will return to these using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder in the coming months. Cheers.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Album Review: Nora Jane Struthers and the Breakfast of Champions

Nora Jane Struthers first surfaced on my radar many years ago at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion as a bluegrass performer and her album Carnival was the pinnacle release in that phase of her career. After losing track of her, she re-surfaced this month with her band The Party Line at Jammin Java featuring a more intense and dynamic alt-county rock sound. The tour was supporting Champion, their current release that showcases this new sound which at times - particularly live - has a Drive-By Truckers guitar feel (See Grit). This is a tight band that reflects not only Struthers' vocals but the multi-instruments performed by husband Joe Overton. We're talking pedal steel, fiddle, and banjo that compliments perfectly with guitarist Josh Vana, bassist Brian Duncan Miller, and drummer Drew Lawhorn. Yet, two of my favorite tracks feature Struthers' sweet and pure vocals in Show Me and Just A House.

The album is highly recommended but even better, see this band live. And if possible, grab a can of Hog Waller Scramble, a breakfast stout brewed by Charlottesville's Champion Brewing Company. The beer is brewed with coffee and chocolate and is creamy and velvety packing a punch at 8% abv. Wonder if Struthers was sipping this beauty when penning Let's Get The Day Started Right. Works for me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Barrel Tasting at Maryland's Catoctin Breeze Vineyard

We returned to Catoctin Breeze Vineyard last weekend shortly after our ski visit in order to attend a club barrel tasting event. The session was led by winemaker Mike Lentini who had pulled barrel samples of four future releases. The first was an upcoming rosé made from gently pressed Chambourcin grapes grown by a grower in Maryland's St. Mary's County. This vineyard benefits from sandy soils and marine coastal influences and is in an area that Dr. Joe Fiola (Extension Specialist in Viticulture and Small Fruit for the University of Maryland) has championed for years. This Chambourcin rosé is already delicious and showcases the versatility of the fruit. It is light and fresh with plenty of acids and is no comparison to the Syrah rosé wine currently on display. Expect an early summer release.

The tasting then turned to three reds starting with a Petit Verdot, sourced from the same St. Mary's vineyard. This will be a big wine, huge, with hoards of jammy dark fruit, abundant tannins, and juicy acidity. The current condition of the wine reflects the grape's thick skins and natural acidity and will benefit tremendously with additional barrel aging and bottle conditioning. Expect an early winter 2018-2019 release. A future estate grown Cabernet Franc is in a similar condition. It is big and raw with plenty of flavor and inherent pepper characters. Mike believes that Cab Franc is the future for Maryland red wine (I saw a similar pattern with their southerly neighbor) and the winery intends to capitalize on their productive estate vineyard. Expect the same release schedule as the Petit Verdot. The final red was the future vintage of Concerto, their signature Bordeaux blend -- which in this release will be majority Cabernet Franc, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. This wine is ready now, even out white wine preferring friends easily quaffed this delicious blend. Expect, I believe, a fall 2018 release.

By chance during a tour of the events area, Mike happened to spot a floater in a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that was being stored for a spring-summer release. This is another wine that I preferred more than the current release available in the tasting room. It is fresh, citrus - but not lemongrass - with a nice saline character. Perhaps another sourced from St. Marys?

After a round of sampling through their Sweet ($8) and Signature ($10) wine tastings I wanted to comment on the meads. The have three honey wines available, all from a large 2010 vintage and each has a touch of sweetness without any clawing sugary aftertaste. The Honeymmon ($25) is blended with orange juice and feels like fall whereas the Amber ($23) is spiced with Christmas flavors. Both are solid meads. However we came home with a bottle of the Dolce Vita ($24), a melomel mead made with blackberries. The berry flavors are prevalent with the sweet honey kicking in near the tail. Nicely done.

When leaving we decided to also tour the three covered bridges in Frederick County all within 10 miles of the winery. In fact, the closest, Loy's Station, is only a half mile past the winery on Roddy Road. These are impressive structures which even Civil War soldiers respected while marching through the area. After theCompass Craft Beverage Finder navigates you to Orchard Cellars continue to these bridges. Cheers.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Lunch With The Hess Collection: Mount Veeder, Su’skol and Salta

"When I first saw these hills of Mt Veeder, I was attracted by its beauty", Donald Hess founder of the Hess Collection Winery

But Hess also believed that good grapes were grown on hillsides as was his experience visiting the great wineries of Europe. And on Mount Veeder the vines are virtually clinging to the sides of the mountain and the AVA is the highest and coolest in Napa. Thus in 1978 Donald Hess, whose Swiss pedigree included generations of Bern brewers, acquired his first parcels on Veeder. These holdings gradually expanded to 900 acres plus 125 acres leased from the historic The Christian Brothers -- who had already been leasing several historic winery buildings to Hess since 1986. And in 1995 Hess planted the Su’skol Vineyard in Napa Valley closer to the cooling influences of the San Pablo Bay.

I learned these facts and many more during a luncheon this week at BLT Steak that was sponsored by the Hess Collection Winery - with Nicole Carter (Chief Marketing Officer and ​Director of Winemaking) and CEO ​John Grant. Over several wines they discussed all aspects of the winery from its historical roots, current fifth generation leadership, sustainable viticulture, the Hess family's support of the arts, the Napa fires, and the entire Hess Family Wine Estates portfolio -- comprising The Hess Collection, Artezin, MacPhail Family Wines, Colomé and Amalaya. Here is the background of the wines poured at the event as well as more information concerning the portfolio. Cheers.

2015 The Hess Collection Napa Valley Chardonnay ($22) - made from Su’skol Vineyard grapes where the vineyards are cooled by the morning fog and afternoon breezes generated by the San Pablo Bay -- located 10 miles away.  Only 30% of the fruit undergoes malo-latic fermentation in which the process provides a mild dose of creaminess and lift without becoming overbearing. Instead, the floral aromatics, green apple flavors, and bright acids dominate the experience.

2015 The Hess Collection The Lioness Napa Valley Chardonnay  ($60) - the Hess Family crest and credo is “live each day with the heart and courage of the lion” and this wine was named to honor the Hess women. Sourced from the best lots in the Su’skol Vineyard, the juice was barrel fermented and only selected barrels participated in the final blend. This is a powerful, yet fresh Chardonnay where the texture derives from ample lees stirring. It also exhibits a minty character and finishes with considerable length. Wish it was in the weekly budget.

2015 The Hess Collection Napa Valley "Allomi" Cabernet Sauvignon ($32)  - the grapes are sourced from the winery's Allomi Vineyard located in the warmer Pope Valley. The wine includes 6% Petit Sirah which Ms Carter states "keeps Sauvignon from going flabby". This wine is pure pleasure, full bodied dark fruit, structured, integrated tannins and persistent acids.

2016 Colomé Autentico Malbec ($25) - represents even more Wines with Altitude from historic Bodega Colomé which was founded in Salta Argentina in 1831. The winery and estate vineyard are located at 7,545 feet above sea level and operates three other vineyards ranging from 5,750 (La Brava Estate) to 10,200 (Altura Máxima Estate) feet above sea level. This last could be the highest vineyard in the world. The Hess Collecton's original winemaker Randle Johnson is the consulting winemaker for Colomé and the team produces an "autentico" Malbec which translates to unoaked. This method showcases the fruit with it's cherry pepper nose, big flavor profile, subtle but noticeable tannins (thick grape skins) and dominating acids. Nicely done.

2015 The Hess Collection Napa Valley Lion Tamer Red Blend ($45) - what a unique blend of Malbec (50%), Zinfandel (23%), Petite Sirah (11%), Cabernet Sauvignon (6%), Petit Verdot (4%), Merlot (4%), and Mouvedre (2%). The Lion Tamer refers specifically to Malbec as Hess utilizes the grape to tame tannins from other varieties. According to Carter, the secret ingredient was the Mouvedre which contributed just enough bright fruit to ignite the palate.  This is one juicy wine with the own rooted Malbec loaded with flavor and the other grape varieties adding additional nuances. So different, so very different.

2013 The Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon ($65) - derived from the estate Vedder Hills Vineyard situated from 600 to 1,120 feet above sea level where several of the historic blocks had been replanted. The blend includes 18% Malbec which apparently is needed to tame the additional tannins from 22 months of predominately new French Oak aging. Peppermint greets the nose, followed by multiple layers of fruit, vanilla, and spices. And as all the wines, lively acidity lengthens the finish.

2014 The Hess Collection The Lion Cabernet Sauvignon ($185) - this is the winery's highest end Cabernet Sauvignon and most likely out of a majority of our budgets. It surfaces only during signature vintages using selective fruit from their Mount Veeder vineyards. The blend includes 17% Malbec and 1% Petite Verdot and undergoes a similar oak treatment as the Mount Veeder Cabernet. This wine equals structure as the juice melts in the palate with a tail lift from spices and acids. No doubt, a special treat.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Doctor Wine's The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine 2018

To understand Italian wine you must study the regions -- Daniele Cernilli, aka DoctorWine
Daniele Cernilli stressed this point at a luncheon at Maxwell Park in Washington D.C. celebrating the release of The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine 2017 - his comprehensive guide book devoted exclusively to Italian wine. That's a huge undertaking as Italy is arguably the most diverse wine country in the world. You could say this quote also explains the rational behind such a comprehensive undertaking as it is delineated by region and also includes descriptions of hundreds of wines, most under $20 in the U.S. market.

But why must you study the regions in order to understand Italian wine? "Because the same grape variety is made in completely different styles depending on those wine regions". This was evident during our lunch as Cernilli poured Sangiovese wines from four wineries representing four different wine regions.

Torre San Martino is located in the Emilia-Romagna DOC, more specifically their 10 hectares vineyard is located in Tosco-Romagnola. The owners restored a Sangiovese vineyard appropriately named Vigna 2 and replanted ungrafted Sangiovese vines and the resulting Romagna Sangiovese Vigna 1922 Reserva DOC 2013 was excellent with multiple spicy sensations and noticeable tannins in it's lengthy finish. However, for our sample they poured the Romagna Sangiovese Superiore Gemme DOC 2013 which possesses dusty soft fruit and abundant acids. According to Cernilli, the acids are much more important to this wine than the tannins.

The second Sangiovese in our sample was from Fattoria Le Pupille, a second generation family winery operating 12 hectares of vineyard in Morellino along the southern Tuscany coast of La Maremma. The family is mostly known for their Super-Tuscan Saffredi wine but don't overlook their Poggio Valente IGT Toscana Rosso 2015. This 100% Sangiovese wine comes from the Poggio Valente vineyard located 900 feet above sea level. Although the region is generally warmer than Chianti, constant breezes help prevent disease pressure. This is an elegant wine, predominately cherry with more tannin structure to augment the balanced acidity.

Moving to Chianti, Querciabella is located in the historical demarcation of that region in Chianti Classico. The winery started farming organically in 1988 and was certified biodynamic in 2000. The estate vineyards are located 1,300 to 1,650 feet above sea level so the vineyards are even cooler than expected. The Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2015 is aged in barrique casks for a year and the result is brighter fruit, slightly more spice, and lingering finesse.

The final Sangiovese was the Le Macioche Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010 from Famiglia Cotarella. The Cotarella is also known for their 100% Merlot Montiano Lazio, other wines from Lazio and Umbria, as well as the recently acquired Azienda Agricola Le Macioche estate in Brunello di Montalcino.  This Sangiovese holds a couple advantages over its companions starting with the obvious difference in age. Then there's the Brunello -- a strain of Sangiovese grown only on the slopes around Montalcino – the classic hilltop village in Tuscany that is located 20 miles south of Siena.  This is a magnificent wine - intense and powerful - spices and juicy tannins.

Besides the above mentioned wines, there are a few others I'd like to highlight. First, my favorite of the afternoon was the Bertani Amrone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2008 a blend of 80% Corvina Veronese and 20% Rondinella. Once again the wine was blessed by several years aging in barrel. This wine is intense, yet elegant; wild, yet restrained. An instant classic. The Vincho Vaglia Serra I Tre Vescovi Barbera d'Asti Superiore DOCG 2015 was another wine that wanted to be heard with it's zinging acidity, dirty texture, and fresh red fruit. Finally there were two other excellent wines from Querciabella, their feminine Mongrana 2013 ( 50% Sangiovese, 25% Merlot, & 25%  Cabernet Sauvignon) and more powerful yet sophisticated Turpino - an unexpected blend of Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Merlot.

The tasting also including several sparkling and white wines. The former were well represented by Lombardy's Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta cuvées. The Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 2007 is named after Annamaria Clementi, who along with her husband Albano founded the winery in 1962. This sparkling wine spent over eight years on its lees resulting in a creamy textured wine - but with surprisingly zest. The Franciacorta Vintage Collection Brut shared a somewhat similar blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, and Pinot Nero and exhibits considerable finesse.

 Moving to still wines, the Vincho Vaglia Serra Il Griso Roero Arneis DOCG 2016 is an oddity in the since that the grape almost went extinct in the 1960s.  The wine's floral aromas leads to a soft stone fruit center and and slightly acidic tail. Very nice. Finally I was able to revisit the Fattoria Le Pupille Poggio Argentato 2016 ($21), a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Mensang, and Traminer fermented in neutral oak. This is a luscious wine: floral and silky with balanced acids.

Cheers to Italian wine and Doctor Wine's The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine.