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  • Highlights of the 2018 SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience

    Posted: 2018-06-21 16:00
    The 2018 SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience hosted by the Brewer's Association and held at D.C.'s National Building Museum presented consumers with over 180 craft beers in a multitude of styles. The breweries represented the entire
    American industry from two Hawaiian breweries to the continent from New Mexico and Arizona, through Oklahoma to Vermont and Maine. Despite being heavy in IPA's, sours, and barrel aged beers, some of these breweries  poured palate cleansing lagers such as Hawaii's Kohola Brewery and their mineral driven Lokahi Pilsner. Likewise, cheers to more German Pilseners from Maine's Boothbay Craft Brewery Block of Time and Seattle's Cloudburst Brewing Happy Little Clouds. There were also a plethora of pale ales like Maryland's RAR Brewing's Slip Ons, Tampa Bay Brewing's Reef Donkey, and Night Shift Brewing's Whirlpool. Fifteen years ago these pales ales were the heaviest beers around but are  and now competing with IPAs for attention.

    Sour beers were once again SAVOR's rising trend, (I'd estimate that at least a quarter of the offerings) with traditional Gose joined by experimental brews, fruited beers, and wood aged sours. Brewery Ommegang's Faith & Fortitude was mentioned in a previous post as well as the SAVOR collaboration beer Brett de Vinum. However, my favorite of the evening
     were the Arizona Wilderness Brewing Sonoran Prince (Fruited wood-aged sour) and Lexington Kentucky's West Sixth Brewing Sixfold X: Flanders Red (wood-aged sour). The former is an extraordinarily delicious sour ale fermented in French oak with local Florida Prince peaches and inoculated with various cultures. Evidently the native yeast on the peach skins add more layers. The West Sixth Flanders is a red sour ale that packs tremendous flavors (think tart cherry and back in the barnyard) using just malted barley, hops, water, yeast and 18 months aging in oak barrels. Honorable mentions go to Vermont's Four Quarters Brewing Fleur de Lis American Sour, The Lost Abbey's Veritas, Denver's Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project Sour Rosé, Dogfish Head's Mixed Media (ale brewed with grape must). I see a wine theme there.

    Barrels were also prevalent through aging darker beers in used spirits vessels. I use spirits since bourbon wasn't the only option. Colorado's Cheluna Brewing Company ages their Benito's Imperial Stout in Mezcal barrels from Oaxaca, Mexico. Hints of agave envelope the sweet and toasty toffee malt. Long lines lead to another unique pour with Vermont's Lawson's Finest Liquids Fayston Maple Imperial Stout aged in Canadian Whiskey barrels. This powerful beer is
     brewed with organic pale malt and nearly two gallons of local  maple syrup in each barrel. In addition Central Waters Brewing, from Wisconsin poured an excellent Bourbon Barrel Stout as did Colorado's Joyride Brewing with their Bourbon Barrel Aged Dr. Friese's Breakfast Stout. Yet the highlight came from Oklahoma City and COOP Ale Works. The Sooner State may be behind the national beer trend, but COOP poured two remarkable strong beers: 2017 Territorial Reserve Bourbon Barrel Aged Wild Wheat Wine Honey Ale and 2017 Cask-It Series Rye Barrel Aged DNR. The later is made from both malted and unmalted wheat, local alfalfa honey, and fermented wild yeast before resting in old bourbon barrels. The former has even more flavor as the rye imparts spicy characters into the Belgium Dark Strong Ale. Sadly, you have to get to Oklahoma City to enjoy these two.


    There were obviously many other quality beers not reviewed and which I didn't even get a chance to imbibe. Fortunately the Brewer's Association provides this opportunity to sample such a wide range of styles from such a divers geographic region. Cheers.
  • SAVOR 2018: Blended Beer From Blenderie Ommegang

    Posted: 2018-06-14 13:20
    If you are a fan of Brewery Ommegang's Three Philosophers blended beer then you would be interested to know that the Cooperstown New York brewery has launched Blenderie Ommegang, a project focused entirely on very small-batch blended beers. Since the 2002 release of Three Philosophers, the brewery has released other blended beers using combinations of barrel-aged dubbels or two very different saisons or even a mix of stainless steel-aged lactic sours such as in the Pale Sour. According to Ommegang Brewmaster Phil Leinhart, “with blending, we can create flavors and layers of complexity that are otherwise impossible to achieve".

    Using this philosophy, Blenderie Ommegang will release blended beers in a more timely fashion with the first two releases in the series blended with beers from two of Ommegang’s sister breweries in the Duvel Moortgat family: Liefmans Craft Blenders in Belgium and Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s Barrelworks in Buellton, California. “With access to a range of beers from world-class breweries, we can multiply the possibilities and take full advantage of the amazing talents within the family,” explained Ommegang President Doug Campbell.

    The initial blend Faith & Fortitude debuted at the annual SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience and is a combination of aged sour ales and farmhouse saisons. It weights in at a moderate 6.5% ABV and hit several fruit notes from tropical to citrus to stone fruits enveloped with a saison funk. The beer finishes dry and savory.

    Look out for the upcoming second release, Zen & Zymurgy, a mixed fermentation sour with a delicate saison base and four distinct yeast cultures. In the meanwhile I'll be headed to Norms to bring home a few 750s of Faith & Fortitude. Cheers.
  • Left Coast Estate Cools the Pinot

    Posted: 2018-06-10 09:51
    June 5th was the last day for comments regarding the proposed Van Duzer Corridor AVA, a viticultural area that would be carved out of the existing Willamette Valley AVA from portions of Polk and Yamhill Counties, Oregon. About the same time I opened a trio of wines from Left Coast Estate whose 350 acre contiguous estate lies entirely within this pending AVA. The grapes for these wines benefit from the Willamette Valley's three major soil types (marine sediment, volcanic sediment at higher altitudes, and loess from the Missoula Floods) as well as from the cooling breezes from the Van Duzer Corridor. This cooling allows the grapes to retain acidity which is reflected in these samples.


    2017 The Orchard Pinot Gris ($18) is a blend of 91% Pinot Gris and 9% Pinot Blanc. The Orchards is the winery's prime estate for Pinot Gris and once hosted apple, pear, and cherry orchards. This is a fresh wine, great acids with plenty of citrus and green apples. Besides the refreshing acids the wine finishes with a steely minerality and tea.

    2017 Rosé ($25) consists of 54% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier, and 6% Pinot Blanc sharing more traits with Burgundy other than residing along the 45th parallel. The wine was fermented in oak which provides a fair amount of texture to augment the light cherry - strawberry flavors. Finishes dry and savory.

    2017 White Pinot Noir ($24) contains 91% Pinot Noir and 9% Pinot Blanc. The grapes are crushed at cold temperatures to ensure minimal coloration from the skins and then fermented and aged on lees in stainless steel. This process provides plenty of body - a creamy texture - that envelopes the citrus and stone fruit flavors.
  • The 2018 SAVOR Collaboration Beer: Brett de Vinum

    Posted: 2018-06-04 06:00
    One of the highlights to the annual SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience is that every guest leaves with a parting gift — a collaboration beer brewed specifically for the event. The 2018 collaboration beer Brett de Vinum is a partnership between Virginia's Port City Brewing Company and Oregon's Crux Fermentation Project.  Port City's Founder Bill Butcher explained how two breweries from opposite ends of the country partnered in creating this Barrel Aged Imperial Wit (8.0% ABV).

    The two breweries have admired each other's beers over the years and over multiple calls and meetings discussed recipes, styles, and each of their strengths. One of Port City's strengths is brewing with raw wheat (Optimal Wit) and one of Crux Fermentation's strengths is barrel aging and mixed fermentation.According to Bill, "They wanted to learn more about brewing with wheat, which is not such a common style in the Pacific Northwest, and we wanted to learn more about mixed fermentation and barrel aging. As discussions progressed, we settled on a Barrel Aged Imperial Sour Wit".

    As they refined the recipe they thought it would be interesting utilize wine grapes in order to boost the sugar content and achieve a stronger Imperial alcohol level.  Again from Bill, "The National Sales Manager for Crux is a colleague of mine from Robert Mondavi, so we thought it appropriate to use wine grapes. Viognier is a grape that grows well in Virginia and in Oregon, so it naturally made sense to use Viognier".  Since Pinot Noir is Oregon's signature grape "healthy" doses of that grape were also used.  And since production occurred at Crux's facility in Bend, they sourced Oregon grapes. After fermentation, the beer was “banished” into red wine barrels with Crux’s house strains of Brettanomyces.

    The result is a delicious beer combining the freshness and citrus yeastiness of the Optimal Wit with an enhanced creamy texture with just hints of sourness. Fortunately the breweries closed the bottles with a cork so that it can be enjoyed over multiple evenings. Cheers to collaborations and SAVOR.
  • Celebrating Generations of Vineyard Workers with Matsu Tinta de Toro

    Posted: 2018-05-31 20:00
    Castilla y León is the largest region of Spain, as well the largest region of all the European Union, and hosts the wine regions of Ribera and Rueda in addition to the more recently designated Toro DO. Toro lies to the west of Rueda in the province of Zamora and and is bisected by the Duero River flowing towards Portugal. Despite gaining Denomination of Origin (DO) status as late as 1987, wine making traditions predate the Romans as Greek settlers taught the local Celtic tribes how to vinify grapes. During the Middle Ages, Toro gained considerable wealth from the wine trade which expanded during the phylloxera epidemic as the local vines were protected by the sandy soil. Thus even today there are 150 year old vines still producing fruit. Traditionally Tinta de Toro refers to red wine from Toro and equates to a clone of the Tempranillo grape that excels in the DO's continental climate. Like other Spanish DOs there are several classifications of Tinta de Toro:

    Roble: a young red aged between three and six months (can contain some Garnacha)
    Crianza: must age for at least two years with at least six months in oak barrel
    Reserva: must age for at least three years with one year in oak barrel
    Gran Reserva: must age for at least five years with two years in oak barrel

    El Picaro
    In the Toro DO there are currently 8,000 ha of land planted with vines with a portion sourced to Vintae, the La Rioja wine company launched by José Miguel Arambarri and sons José Miguel and Ricardo. The produce wine from 15 DOs and in 2006 ventured into Toro. Three years later they introduced the Matsu brand. In Japanese the brand name translates to "wait" and is a tribute to the workers who tend the vines over multiple generations. As proof, each wine label includes a photo of a viticulturist spanning these generations. I recently received samples of three of these 100% Tinta de Toro wines sourced from extremely old vines farmed using biodynamic techniques.

    El Recio
    Matsu El Picaro 2016 ($13.99) - consists of grapes harvested from a selection of 50 to 70 year old vines. The juice is fermented and rests three months on lees in concrete vats and undergoes malolatic fermentation in French oak barrels. This Roble wine is fresh yet full bodied with a velvety texture, dark juicy fruit, and lasting tannins. A great tasting wine. 

    El Viejo
    Matsu El Recio 2015 ($21.99) - consists of grapes harvested from a selection of 90 to 100 year old vines. After fermentation in concrete vats the wine was aged 14 months in French oak. This Crianza is intense that is both chalky and chewy; dusty and leathery. The dark fruit and chocolate lingers with the tannins. Ups their game here.

    Matsu El Viejo 2015 ($46.99) - consists of grapes harvested from a vines over 100 years old. It follows a similar fermentation and aging regime as the El Racio but extended to 16 months. This Reserva is even more intense exploding in the palate with a combination of fruit, spice, and toasted wood. Chewy tannins integrate with the juicy acids to keep the party going. Oh yes, if only in my budget.

Featured Visit

Silver Oak Cellars; Geyserville, California - Friday, July 04, 2008
After a fulfilling late lunch at Taylors (try the meatball sandwich and coconut milk shake), we explored the back roads of Howell Mountain in order to allow someone to sleep in the car. After an hour driving, we got the urge to visit another winery before the 5:00 o’clock closings. While driving from the Silverado Trail to Route 128 we came upon a sign for Silver Oak Cellars and charged ahead. And found a construction site. Actually, the winery is being completely reconstructed after a fire destroyed the historic dairy barn where the winery was located. The new winery\tasting facility is expected to be completed by the end of the summer. In the meantime, the tasting room is housed in a temporary – but spacious – trailer. Upon entering the facility we found a very different enterprise than those we had visited earlier.

Over thirty five years ago Ray Duncan partnered with Justin Meyer (then the winemaker at Christian Brothers) with the idea to make wine from a single variety: Cabernet Sauvignon. And not just a typical Cabernet that’s tannic content requires several years of aging. They wanted to produce a wine with “fully developed flavors and a velvety soft texture on the day it is released for sale”. In order to do so, they purchased vineyards in two premier appellations (Napa and the Alexander Valley) and developed a partnership with a Missouri cooperage to ensure a steady supply of high quality American oak. Over the years they manipulated the blends within the appellations and between new and used oak to produce duo of wines that evidently have a large following. Mr. Meyer selected Daniel Baron to succeed him as winemaker and eventually sold his shares back to the Duncan family. With several years working experience in the Bordeaux region, Mr. Baron’s experience further contributes to the Silver Oak Cellars philosophy.

We were both relieved and surprised to find only two wines awaiting us in the tasting room. After a day of tasting, we were starting to tire of wine, so we figured we could handle two more. On the other hand, we have never visited a winery that had this few offerings. Interesting. We started with the 2003 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from several Alexander Valley vineyards. The irony of finding an Alexander Valley wine in Napa the day after traveling specifically to Alexander Valley and finding mostly Napa grown wines was not lost on us. The wine is aged in 50% new and 50% once-used American oak barrels for 25 months, and then spends another 15 months aging in bottle. The wine has a full black cherry flavor that lasts throughout – from the nose to the tail. This wine is a fine example where wineries should serve beef cubes while tasting – it must pair well with beef.

The 2003 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was actually a Bordeaux blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine is blended than aged in 100% new American oak barrels approximately 25 months, and then spends another 20 months aging in bottle. No need to store this wine; drink immediately. This is a smooth wine that is probably worth its steep price ($100). It is neither fruit forward or earthy, but rather a nice combination of the two. Even though this wine appears a little spicier than the Alexander Valley wine, it seems to be more drinkable on its own – without a meal – and even during a hot day. We enjoyed this wine – an instant classic. And good luck to Silver Oak Cellars on this reconstruction.

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