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  • The Pre-Industrial Approach to Farming at Ridge Vineyards at Lytton Springs Estate

    Posted: 2024-06-10 20:24
    During the 2022 BevFluence Livermore Experience we ventured west to the Santa Cruz Mountains in order to visit the famous Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Estate. Thus we deemed it appropriate during the recently concluded 2024 BevFluence Sonoma Experience to travel to the Dry Creek Valley and visit the Ridge Vineyards at Lytton Springs Estate. Alongside 115-year-old vines we sipped several Ridge wines and learned about the winery's Pre-Industrial Approach to Farming that was a forbearer to an upcoming lesson on Regenerative Farming by Grgich Hills Estate

    Whereas Ridge Vineyards is not formally Regenerative Organic Certified, they have adopted virtually all the practices recommended by the alliance.  As of 2022, Ridge has received organic certification for 100% of the vines at their Monte Bello, Lytton Springs, Geyserville, and East Bench vineyards.  In addition they protect and increase the fertility of soil microbes by applying home-made compost; planting cover crops that add  nitrogen and organic matter and control erosion; practice no till (mow only) on their hillside vineyard blocks to help minimize erosion and build organic matter in the soil. 

    Ridge also encourages beneficial insect and bird populations as an alternative to pesticides. Planting hedgerows harbor  beneficial insects as well as break up the monoculture of vineyards.  They have installed raptor roosts and bird boxes to help with insect and rodent control. And their Integrated Pest Management activity monitors for pests and insects to quickly ameliorate crop damage.

    These practices have greatly enhanced the survivability of their old vines like those within the Lytton Springs Estate. During our tasting we sat at the base of these vines, sampling several fantastic Ridge wines. The first was the 2023 Alder Springs Falanghina ($35) which includes 18% Vermentino and is sourced from the Alder Springs Vineyard in Mendocino County. Interestingly, they discovered a warmer micro-climate within the overwise cooler Mendocino region to grow this southern Italian grape variety and the delicious wine shows peach and tropical notes with racy minerality.  The 2023 Lytton Estate Rosé ($35) was the first Lytton Springs estate wine on the tasting menu and this is a strawberry inspired blend of 36% Grenache, 26% Zinfandel, 15% Mataro (Mourvédre), 14% Cinsaut, and 9% Counoise. 

    Moving to the red wines, the 2022 Green & Red Zinfandel ($42) includes 2% Petite Sirah with the zin coming from the Green & Red estate at a high elevation in Napa Valley. Grapes from two vineyard sites (Tip Top vineyard and Chiles Mill vineyard) are co-fermented and show abundant acidity.  Moving to estate wines, the 2021 Lytton Springs ($55) is a delicious blend of 72% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah, 9% Carignane, 2% Alicante Bouschet, 1% Cinsaut, and 1% Counoise. This wine includes vines planted in 1901 plus eighty-year-old Counoise inter-planted with Cinsaut. Luscious as our party would say.  The 2021 Lytton Estate Syrah, Grenache, Mataro ($44) features 74% Syrah, 17% Grenache, & 9% Mataro where the G floral notes, the S provides richness, and the M - spiciness. This was a must purchase. The 2021 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($90) includes 16% Merlot most of which is sourced from Monte Bello’s Klein Ranch. Layers and layers of fruit. Finally, a tasting at any of the Ridge tasting rooms requires a sampling of the famed Monte Bello - in this case - the 2016 Monte Bello which was a 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, & 6% Cabernet Franc blend. A mild summer allowed the grapes to slowly ripen, retaining acidity, which are still prevalent after the 18 months in oak and six years in the bottle. A classic wine. 

  • Grape Spotlight: DO Pla de Bages Picapoll from Bodegas Abadal

    Posted: 2024-06-05 09:51

    The first documented reference on the existence of the Picapoll grape in Bages is found in an inventory of the monastery at Sant Benet de Bages in the year 1564. From 1889 on, there is more precise evidence of the existence of this grape and in documents dating back to 1889 and 1890, it is mentioned as being the most widely-grown variety in the region of Bages. After 1930, in Bages and the rest of the wine-growing regions of Catalonia, there was a decline in the area of land dedicated to vineyards which resulted in the residual growth of Picapoll in Bages – a region which is ideally suited to this variety, thanks to the grape’s great adaptability. -- Bodegas Abadal 

     

    The DO Pla de Bages designation is one of ten in Catalunya and lies 30 miles northwest of Barcelona. This region enjoys a mostly Mediterranean climate but Continental influences move in as the hot summers transition to cold winters.   The Llobregat and Cardener rivers weave southwards through the region and vineyards sit within the rivers' valleys, surrounded by impressive mountain peaks and ranges, including the tourist destination of Montserrat Monastery.  During the summer months the grapes develop slowly because of the very high diurnal temperature variation.

    According to wine-searcher.com, "Vineyard locations, and the corresponding grape-growing conditions, are defined by two distinct types of topography. The central basin, at an altitude of 200m (600ft), has predominantly clay-based soil and is warmer.  Alt Bages ('Upper Bages'), which lies at 500m (1,600ft) above sea level, is the cooler part and has a healthy amount of lime in its soil. This helps to retain moisture during the hotter months. The lower reaches, simply referred to as Pla des Bages, sits at around 200m (600ft) above sea level. The soils are alluvial, made up of mostly clay and sand."

    Pla des Bages acquired DO status in 1995, in part from the effort of Valentí Roqueta, who chaired the association from 1995 to 2015. A dozen years previously, he had founded Bodegas Abadal based on eight centuries of the Roqueta family's vine growing tradition. The first documents that illustrate this tradition date from the year 1199.  The estate focuses on native grape varieties that his ancestors may have grown for they provide the "maximum expression in their native land".

    Their "vineyards are distributed on terraces at different levels. They are nourished by a terrain of clay and limestone, and they are surrounded by woodland which leaves its mark in our wines. The result is expressiveness and complexity. The vineyards are immersed in a unique microclimate that is a mix of Mediterranean and continental, with a marked temperature oscillation between day and night."

    The winery may not call their vineyard practices Regenerative Farming, but they sure resemble it. Abadal facilitates biodiversity and maintains a high proportion of the forest around their vineyards that protect and nurture a wide variety of animal and plant species. As a result, pests are controlled by this  auxiliary fauna. They also maintain a living soil by sustaining an active microbiology, minimizing compaction, improving its structure and therefore facilitating the work of the roots. Finally, they are very proud of their efforts to  maintain the historical environment by restoring and conserving dry stone huts and vats that date back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

    The very first Abadal Picapoll was released to the market in 1996 and this was also the first 100% Picapoll released from the DO Pla de Bages. A synonym for Piquepoul or Picpoul, the grape may have migrated to Catalunya from the Rhone Valley and Languedoc regions during the earlier Roqueta family history.  The Picapoll grape grows in small compact clusters, with tiny spherical berries that very often show “picades” or marks on the grape skin, which is where the name originated. I sampled the 2021 vintage of the Abadal Picapoll Pla des Bages DO at last month's Spain's Great Match and was surprised by its weight -- assisted by three months aging on lees.  Expect a floral and herbaceous aroma and a complex citrus profile. Fresh acidity provided a lively finish 

  • Encounters with Vermouth

    Posted: 2024-05-25 21:00

    My Dear Wormwood, ....

    Sipping absinthe or vermouth prompts me to mimic Uncle Screwtape when addressing his inexperienced nephew as I've grown fond of wormwood and the other aromatized herbs found in these beverages. Whereas the Artemisia absinthium herb is expected in absinthe, it shouldn't surprise consumers of its prevalence in vermouth.  Consider that the term "vermouth" translates from English to German as wermut.  Technically, Vermouth is a fortified wine that is aromatized -- meaning herbs, barks, citrus, or other ingredients are added for aroma and flavor -- and fortified with additional alcohol. 

    The Kingdom of Savoy was a historical state that existed from 1416 to 1861 and was located in the western Alps, in what is now part of France, Italy, and Switzerland. the southern French part of the empire includes the Chambery region whereas the Italy section including Turin. Interestingly vermouth can be traced to both of these regions. Carpano was the very first vermouth brand, dating back to 1786 in Turin, Italy. In France, Noilly Prat in Marseillan was a dry style of vermouth, founded in 1813 whereas Dolin’s Vermouth de Chambéry was first identified as a distinct style in 1821. 

    In modern times, the European Union states that vermouth, as well as other aromatized wines, must include at least 75% wine in the finished product to which alcohol has been added (fortified) and have an ABV of 14.5–22%. In particular, vermouth is a product "whose characteristic taste has been obtained by the use of appropriate substances of Artemisia species".  See ANNEX II

    Vermouth comes in a range of sweetness levels, from extra dry (limited to a maximum sugar content of 30 grams per liter in the E.U.) through the semi-sweet blanc/blanco/bianco style, to sweet (minimum sugar content of 130 grams per liter in the E.U.).   This later style is traditionally an ingredient to the classic Manhattan and Negroni. The blanc is traditionally used in Martinis whereas dry vermouth leads to a Dry Martini. All can be served over ice for those accustomed to a bitter and herbaceous profile.  

    My first consistent encounter with Vermouth began during the BevFluence Negroni book campaign where David T. Smith and Keli Rivers published dozens of recipes.  Then came an Italian vacation consuming more Negronis and dry or sweet vermouth on ice with a twist of lime, as well as various Amaros. I was hooked. 

    One of my favorites is from Uruguay in the Vermut Flores Rosé NV Canelones where Basta Spirit uses Tannat as a base augmented by 27 botanicals, including flowers such as hops, chamomile, rose, and elderberry. It is extremely aromatic, with plenty of herbaceousness and forest spiciness - very gin-like.

    At a recent Spain's Great Match trade tasting I became infatuated with the Casals Vermouth - the first Vermouth made with ancestral Catalan white grape varietals, enhanced with 20 Mediterranean botanicals from Penedés, Spain. A fantastic sipping rum from Torres Distillery and available by the glass at Del Mar Restaurant at the District Wharf. 

    At this event I was also able to reacquaint myself with the sherry inspired vermouth from Jerez and Gonzalez Byass. The La Copa Vermouth starts with an Oloroso Fino sherry base (100% Palomino) that is created by oxidative aging. The wine is fortified early, suppressing the flor yeast which typically protects against oxidation. This vermouth is aromatized with wormwood, various herbs, dried fruit, and spices. The sweeter La Copa Rojo Vermouth is an eight-year-old blend of 75% Palomino and 25% Pedro Ximénez with traditional botanicals including wormwood, cinnamon, orange peel, and nutmeg. 

    Closer to home in Middleburg Virginia, Mt. Defiance Distillery produces an interesting Sweet Vermouth that I realized very quickly was too unique to use in a Negroni. This vermouth starts with botanicals and spices infused into their Mt. Defiance Apple Brandy that they say "extracts flavors from herbs we grow ourselves and spices from around the world. This flavored base is then blended with barrel-aged brandy, Vidal Blanc wine, local honey, and caramel syrup. Not a traditional recipe so serve over ice and enjoy.  

    And finally, I recently received samples of two vermouths from one of the historic homelands of the beverage -- 9diDANTE. The Purgatorio Extra Dry Vermouth di Torino Superiore IGP and Inferno Rosso Vermouth di Torino Superiore IGP  are produced at the historic Dr. M. Montanaro Distillery in Piedmont. Collaborators Alex Ouziel and Mario Baralis are one of few producers in the Turin region to use 100% DOC Piedmontese wines, made entirely from native grapes -- Dolcetto/Cortese for the red Inferno and Arneis for the extra dry Purgatorio .  Each vermouth contains 27 botanicals with the major contributors aligning to Dante's classical interpretation of levels of the afterlife.  I enjoyed the Inferno chilled and the Purgatorio over ice with either a twist of lime or orange. Expect a longer post n mid-June with thoughts from Mr. Ouziel 

  • Grape Spotlight: Rheinhessen QbA Riesling & Art of Earth

    Posted: 2024-05-23 09:06

    The region has been cultivating grapes for wine production at least since ancient Roman occupation. It is also the home to the oldest surviving records of a German vineyard. Named Glöck, the vineyard was included in a deed for a church and vineyards gifted by Carloman – a duke of the Franks of the Carolingian family and the uncle of the first Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne – to the diocese of Würzburg in 742.  -- wine-searcher.com

    Rheinhessen is Germany's largest region for producing the quality wines of the Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) designations, with 26,860 hectares (66,370 acres) of vineyard as of 2019.  Continuing with wine-searcher.com, "Many of its most significant viticultural areas are favorably influenced by the Rhine river, which runs along its north and eastern borders. The Rhine, along with the Nahe river to the west and the Haardt mountains to its south, form a natural border. Rheinhessen covers an area south of Rheingau, north of Pfalz and east of Nahe, and is located within the Rhineland-Palatinate federal state.

    Because of its size, Rheinhessen has variety of soil types and climatic influences. Many of the best-known viticultural areas are close to the Rhine, which forms a steeply embanked valley that is able to trap heat, while the river moderates temperature and reflects sunlight.

    The Taunus hills, Odenwald, and Hunsrück Mountains shelter vineyards from harsh weather, giving Rheinhessen a mild climate compared to the rest Germany, with a relatively long growing season. Annual precipitation is also relatively low, roughly 500mm, making it one of the country's driest wine producing areas."

    The Art of Earth Riesling 2021 ($11.99) is 100% Riesling grown in the Rheinhessen QbA and is available in the United States through Mack & Schuhle. This is an organic wine as signified by the Art of the Earth brand which is the importers "global search for the finest organic vineyards making wines within classic appellations and their traditional varietals for a pure expression of the region. Our wines are true to their origins and winemaking traditions without the use of pesticides or herbicides." These organically grown grapes originated in the slate soils of the Reinhessen and the wine was vinified in the dry, trocken style. Expect plenty of tropical fruit with a mineral driven acidity that races and lifts the fruit's sugar character. 

  • Cloudy Cocktails with Absente Absinthe Refined 55°

    Posted: 2024-05-17 06:40

    Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) has been used for several millennia in traditional medicine to treat a range of ailments, including digestive issues, fever, and skin problems as the first recorded use of the herb dates back to 1552 B.C. in ancient Egypt.  Wormwood is the major ingredient in absinthe which originated in the 18th century in Switzerland when a "French doctor named Dr. Pierre Ordinaire created an all-purpose patent remedy in Couvet, Switzerland around 1792. This remedy was made with a combination of wormwood, anise, and other herbs.

    Absinthe gained popularity in the 19th century, particularly in France, where it became known as "la fée verte" or the green fairy. It was often consumed in specialized absinthe bars, where it was served in a unique ritual involving a sugar cube, water, and a slotted spoon. The drink’s popularity became controversy as it was blamed for a range of social ills, including increased crime rates, poverty, and moral decay. In 1912, absinthe was banned in the United States, and it remained illegal until 2007.  Similar bans occurred in some Western European countries such as France. 

    Technically speaking, the government never banned Absinthe but they banned thujone - the chemical compound in wormwood  - that sensationalized science at the time theorized caused seizures and hallucinations.  In October 2007 the TTB issued new guidelines that made Absinthe containing thujone legal as long as the bottle contained less than 10 parts per million of thujone. In there words, if it contained less than this amount it was considered “thujone free” and was therefore legal.

    When France softened their Absinthe ban in 1988, Distilleries Domaines de Provence, was the first company to restart producing absinthe using a 160 year old recipe based on plants growing on the Lure mountain range.  This mountain lies between the Alps and the Mediterranean and thus benefits from a unique climate ideal for the development of  a diverse array of plants. According to the distillery, "The Alpes de Haute-Provence department is rich with some of the most abundant and varied flora in France, and is no doubt unique in the number of plant and botanical groups to be found there. ”  

    Distilleries Domaines de Provence's Absente Absinthe was the first brand released in the U.S. after re-legalization and uses the original 160 year old French recipe which includes the noticeable wormwood but also star and green anise., lemon balm, mugwort, citrus, and peppermint. The traditional and historic method to serve Absente that was popular in the 1800s is to pour a couple of ounces of Absente in a glass, upon which a sugar-cube-topped absinthe spoon is placed. Then, and equal amount of cold water is dripped over the sugar. The water turns the absinthe cloudy -- called louche -- which allows the flavors of the spirit spring forth. 

    That being said, cocktails are another satisfying use of absinthe and here are a trio that I tinkered with after receiving the Absente 55° case + Van Gogh spoon.  For the De La Louisiane I chose to make it a Cajun-Hungarian recipe honoring the Hungarian immigrants who became loggers around Albany, Louisiana and our friends at Wildcat Brothers Distilling. The distillery just released Cochon Sauvage -- a rhum agricole aged three years in 2nd use rye whiskey barrels (which replaces the rye whiskey) and good ol' Unicum Silva in place of the Bénédictine. And for the Green Cider, I used the Lonetree Cider  Authentic Dry Cider. The cider from British Columbia is a blend of old world cider apples, such as Belle de Boskoop and Bramley, fermented with crisp fresh table apples; MacIntosh, Spartan and Golden Delicious.  Santé.

    De La Louisiane
    Ingredients:
    1 part Absente55
    1 part Rye Whiskey
    1 part Bénédictine
    2 parts Chilled Water
    Peychaud's Aromatic bitters

    Absinthe by Jimmy
    Ingredients:
    1 part Absente55
    2 parts Chilled Water
    1 part Lime Juice
    Aromatic bitters

    Green Cider
    Ingredients:
    1 part Absente55
    2 parts Hard Cider
    1 part Tart Cherry Juice
    Lime wheel


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