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  • Salute American Vodka - Your USA Certified™ Spirit

    Posted: 2017-05-26 16:32

    If you are looking for a patriotic and smooth vodka this Memorial Day weekend or for the upcoming 4th of July then start searching for Salute American Vodka. The native spirit is not only distilled and bottled in Rochester New York using Midwestern corn and wheat, but the "signature red, white, and blue 750ml bottles (modeled after World War II standard issue GI canteens) are manufactured in New Jersey". In fact the label contains the USA Certified™ seal where the parent company passed an audit and certification process that proved that all product assembly and American labor comply with all U.S. safety standards and labor laws.

    In addition, one dollar from every bottle is donated to charities supporting active and retired military personnel. "Patrons have the opportunity to localize the dollar by nominating resident heroes to receive support in their communities through the company’s program Salute American Heroes. In 2017, the company aims to impact five different veterans through donations to charities that support those veterans’ pursuit of the American dream. Salute American Vodka has an award-winning taste with an honorable social mission".

    But what about the vodka? The spirit is distilled four times then cut to 80 proof. It is clean with a sweeter profile that thickly coats the palate and finishes very smoothly. Easy drinking neat, but who drinks vodka straight? Instead, cocktails are your best bet and Salute offers a range of drink recipes such as an Apple Cider Cocktail or Salute Raspberry Lemonade.

    Now, I received this bottle as a sample and currently Salute American Vodka is only available in the Northeast. But the company is quickly lining up distributors in other states and hopes to have the vodka available in the Mid-Atlantic very soon. Cheers and happy Memorial Day.
  • Andrea Freeborough Showcases South Africa's Nederburg Winery

    Posted: 2017-05-24 10:44
    The international wine market contains an overabundance of affordable value wines with Wines of South Africa (WOSA) strongly situated in that category. And one of the most awarded and innovative wineries within the WOSA is Nederburg, continuously operating since 1791.  Last week the current Cellar Master of Nederburg, Andrea Freeborough, visited the DC area to share the history of the winery as well as a few wines in their portfolio that honor this rich history of 200 years of winemaking.

    Philippus Wolvaart, a German immigrant, purchased the beginnings of the estate in 1791, named it after his Commissioner-General, Sebastian Nederburgh, and soon planted wine grapes. The estate is located in the Paarl region that soon would become the heart of the South African wine industry until the focus shifted southwards to Stellenbosch in the later 20th century. According to Gavin Hubble, The Wine Guy, Paarl's "climate is very similar to the Rhône Valley in France, with moderate warm summers cooled by Atlantic breezes towards harvest season".

    Over the years Nederburg changed owners but the real innovations started in 1937 when Johann Graue purchased the winery. He introduced cold soaking and other vineyard, cellar, and blending innovations which continued though legendary winemaker Gunter Brozel and continues to the present with Freeborough and her team of five winemakers.

    During our lunch at Hank's Oyster Bar, Freeborough shared five wines that were not only delicious but excellent monetary values.  The grapes for these wines were sourced from the best vineyards in Paarl as well as throughout South Africa. Whereas Germany is the winery's largest export market, Andrea hopes this trip moves the United State's closer to that threshold. Cheers.

    The Winemasters 2016 Chenin Blanc ($12, 13.5%). This is the latest wine in portfolio with the fruit sourced from cool climate vineyards. It provides very strong aromatics and acidity at the nose and the tail with a great mouthfeel in between. Thank 6 months on lees for that sensation. Great value.

    The Young Air Hawk 2016 Wooded Sauvignon Blanc ($21, 14%). This wine pays tribute to Johann Graue’s son, Arnold who died tragically at 29 in a light aircraft crash but not before he had introduced many technical innovations at Nederburg. The grapes were sourced from selected cool climate vineyards in Elgin, Darling and Cape Agulhas, fermented in oak, and spent six months on their lees. The wine is very fresh, much fresher than you would think based on the winemaking techniques. Plenty of lemon aromas and flavors, mouthfeel, and finishing with abundant acids.

    The Anchorman 2015 Wooded Chenin Blanc ($21, 13%). This wine celebrates Nederburg’s founder Philippus Wolvaart and is a blend of Chenin Blanc (85%) and Grenache Blanc (15%). The Chenin grapes were harvested from old, low yielding, dry land bush vines in Wellington and Darling, while the Grenache Blanc grapes were harvested from trellised vines in Franschhoek. Separate batches of the fruit were fermented in various vessels with a portion fermented using carbonic maceration -- where whole bunches are allowed to ferment spontaneously without being crushed or pressed. And after malolactic fermentation, the various components were kept on the lees for 9 months prior to final blending. What a complex process, but the result is well worth the effort. The wine starts with a strong floral and fruit aroma, layered depth, and a long length. Fantastic.

    The Winemasters 2014 Pinotage ($12, 14.5%).  The grapes were harvested from the Western Cape and after fermentation aged 12 months in various oak vessels including French, American and Romanian oak barrels. I loved this wine with it's subdued smokiness, balanced cherry fruit, and subdued acids and tannins. $12, really? That's it. 

    2014 The Brew Master ($22, 13.5%). This is a Bordeaux blend (Cabernet Sauvignon (51%), Petit Verdot (33%), Merlot (6%), Cabernet Franc (5%) and Malbec (5%) named in honor of Johann Graue who was also the co-owner of a German brewery before moving to South Africa. The grapes were fermented and aged separately in various French oak casks for two years. The blended wine is velvety smooth with juicy dark fruit and noticeable acids and tannins suitable for aging. Savory....
  • Craft Spirits Are Colonizing the District's Ivy City

    Posted: 2017-05-20 08:29
    The District of Columbia now hosts half a dozen distilleries, with all but one located in Northeast's Ivy City -- a warehouse district located between New York Avenue and West Virginia Avenue near Gallaudet University.  DCs oldest and most well known distillery, New Columbia Distillers, set up residency in Ivy City in 2011 where craft the popular Green Hat Gin.  Unfortunately during my Sunday visit, they were closed as well as One Eight Distilling. That was not the case for Joseph A. Magnus & Co and Republic Restoratives Distillery where I spent an afternoon sampling their spirits neat as well as in cocktails. The 5th distillery, Cotton & Reed, is actually right outside Ivy City as shown on the map. Download theCompass Craft Beverage Finder for exact locations.

    Joseph A. Magnus & Co is located next door and above Atlas Brew Works so give yourself ample time to visit both.  The distillery is based upon Jimmy Turner finding a hundred year old bourbon produced by his great grandfather Joseph A. Magnus. A new found interest in his family's distilling past led to a with to a partnership with "former Woodford Reserve distiller and Whisky Advocate Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dave Scheurich, American Distilling Institute Director of Research and whiskey blending pro Nancy “The Nose” Fraley, former Buffalo Trace Distillery VP and General Manager Richard Wolf, and Brett Thompson a co-owner of Alexandria’s Pork Barrel BBQ. (See this City Paper article.)  Along with The Gin Goddess, Nicole Hassoun, this team currently produces five spirits: one vodka, two gins, and two bourbons.

    During my visit I sampled these five spirits neat and enjoyed one of the cocktails from their Kentucky Derby themed May menu. Go For Gin brought back racing memories and is a tasty concoction of their Vigilant Gin, honey, lemon, and Rinomata - a new Italian aperitif from vermouth producer Giancarlo Mancino. Going neat, a tasting starts with the Royal Seal Vodka ($29, 80 proof) made from 100% corn grown in Virginia and distilled seven times. This spirit is very clean, smooth with a sweet texture that provides a mellow finish. The distillery offers two gins, the Vigilant Gin ($32, 84 proof) and Navy Strength Gin ($39, 114 proof), both infused with botanicals - a few grown in palettes strategically positioned in the sun facing tasting room. This first is a London-style Dry Gin that has a more citrus character and very mild; the second is a much stronger, 100% corn gin that grabs your attention but still remains smooth at the tail. Moving on, the two bourbons shined - although distilled and aged elsewhere the team created blends that are fantastic. The blend for the Murray Hill Club Blended Bourbon ($92, 103 proof) attempts to replicate the pre-prohibition Magnus bourbon and combines 18 year bourbon, 11 year bourbon, and 9 year light whiskey. The result is a fresh and spicy whiskey with both baking spices and pepper. Finally, the Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon ($92, 100 proof) is a straight bourbon whiskey aged in white oak and finished in Oloroso Sherry, Pedro Ximénez and Cognac casks. This process provides multiple flavors, a complex whiskey alternating between vanilla, nuts, and fruit. All told, a great tasting lineup.


    Moving on down road the one year old, woman owned Republic Restoratives Distillery is located right on New York Avenue NE with an inviting open air tasting bar where they stress a facility is just as much a craft cocktail bar as a distillery. Co-founders Pia Carusone and Rachel Gardner hired Master Distiller, Rusty Figgins to focus on bourbon but also leverage the Ivy City Gin phenomena. But first there's the Civic Vodka ($29, 80 proof), a corn-based vodka that is charcoal polished, a filtration process that provides a smooth and clean spirit. The Borough Bourbon ($55, 88 proof) is a Kentucky born whiskey (sourced until their own whiskey is ready) but then finished at the distillery in Sauvignon Blanc barrique casks. The result is a very smooth whiskey, drinking neat nicely with a little vanilla. My favorite. Finally, the Rodham Rye ($79, 90 proof) - guess who its named after - is sourced one-year-old rye and three-and-a-half-year-old rye from Tennessee. The distillery then cuts the whiskey to proof using Adirondack Mountain spring water from a maple syrup farm in upstate new York. The spicy rye expresses itself clearly, there's also a chewiness and long, complex finish. And enjoy a cocktail, mine was a concoction of honey, lime juice, and Borough Bourbon. Cheers. 
  • Locations White Wine: California (CA4) and Corsica (CORSE)

    Posted: 2017-05-16 18:34
    Dave Phinney's Locations portfolio continues to grow as the brand expands it's white wine offerings. The concept behind the Locations Wine brand was to "to produce a wine that pays homage to their home land without compromise and without boundaries" and may I add, at an affordable price point ($20 range). Currently there are nine red wines (France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, California, Oregon, Washington, and Texas) joined by two white wines: the inaugural California - CA4 and a sophomore release of Corsica - CORSE.

    CA4 - California White Wine ($19.99, 14.5% abv) - a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Roussanne from Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino to reflect the "diversity and potential of California". A portion of the fermented wine was aged in new French oak so expect a slightly buttery flavor. However, that sensation does not overwhelm the other attributes such as the bright lemon aroma and stone fruit and mineral character. And the acids provide a fresh finish. I'd prefer a little less oak, but this is a tasty wine nonetheless.

    CORSE - Corsican White Wine ($18.99, 13.7% abv) - 100% Vermentino and the label represents the shepherd's knife commonly used on the island. On this Mediterranean island wine production can be traced to 570 BC when Phoceans traders settled on the island. Even though Corsica is a French territory, its wine making traditiosn and wine grapes are Italian in origin. There are nine AOC regions with white wines composed primarily of Vermentino. This light skinned Italian grape variety most likely originated on the Italian island of Sardinia - located just south of Corsica. The Vermentino grapes used to produce the CORSE were sourced from "vineyards from steep, hillside slopes comprised of granite and red clay soils". The island's large diurnal change (temperature difference between the hot days and cool nights) allow the grapes to retain acids. This is an elegant wine with a complex floral citrus aroma and a fresh oily texture reminiscent of lemon peels. Expect a wet stone minerality and a clean refreshing finish. Nicely done.
  • The Summer of DO Rías Baixas Albariño Wine Begins Early

    Posted: 2017-05-11 16:50
    With at least four weeks scheduled at various beaches this will most likely be the Summer of Rías Baixas. These fresh, acidic, and minerally driven wines from the northeast corner of Spain (Galicia) are designed for shellfish and seaside consumption.

    The Rias Baixas region encompasses five distinct sub-regions. Ribeira do Ulla is the newest (formed in 2000) and is the most northern region. Val do Salnés is known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape. This is the original and oldest sub-region and it's fingers reach out into the Atlantic.  Soutomaior is the smallest of the sub-regions where the soil is light and sandy over granite bedrock. Condado do Tea (The County of Tea) is named after the river Tea, a tributary of the Miño River which separates the border with Portugal, and is the warmest and driest region. O Rosal also resides against the Miño River -- adjacent to the Atlantic.

    I seem to prefer wines from O Rosal but last week's Rías Baixas - Snooth tasting reinforced that diverse and delicious wines are produced in all regions (or at least the three regions that the tasting focused.  Here's a short rundown of the session's ten wines all worthwhile and very affordable.

    Sub-region: Val do Salnés
    • Condes de Albarei Albariño Rias Baixas 2015 ($15)
      Stone fruit on aroma, then bright and ripe tropical fruit and great acidity, plenty of salinity in the tail
    • Vionta Albariño Rias Baixas 2015, SRP: $15
      Strong floral aroma, creamy and weighty stone fruit wine, aged on lees, some hazelnut
    • Martin Codax Albariño Rias Baixas 2015 ($16.99)
      Has similar acidity but a fuller body as it sits five months on its lees. Interestingly this winery is a co-op of 600 family vineyards.  Ripe fruit and solid acids.
    • Pazo Senorans Albariño Rias Baixas 2016 ($25)
      Fresh citrus and saline with abundant acids; weighty from (60%) macerated on its lees
    Sub-region: Contado do Tea
    • Pazo de San Mauro Albariño Rias Baixas 2015 ($17)
      Creamy, more floral, riper fruit, less acidic and saline
    • Señorío de Rubiós Robaliño Albariño Rias Baixas 2016 ($18)
      Fresh and clean, tropical, slight bitterness on finish - great acids
    Sub-region: O Rosal
    • Valminor Albariño Rias Baixas 2015 ($18.99)
      Wet stone and minerals throughout, citrus aroma and tart flavor. Excellent.  
    • Bodegas Terras Gauda Abadia de San Campio Albariño Rias Baixas 2015 ($19.99)
      Top 2: nuttier, flinty minerality, herbs with dried apricot; fresh acids throughout
    • Altos de Torona Albariño Sobre Lias Rias Baixas 2015 ($14)
      For the price, the best value. Plenty of citrus, stone fruit, refreshing acids
    • Santiago Ruiz Albariño Rias Baixas 2015 ($20)
      A blend of Albarino, Loueiro, Treixadura, Godello, and Caino Blanco - all indigenous grapes to the region.  Fresh and intense hitting all the typical notes: floral, citrus, and stone fruits. And plenty of minerality and acidity. Top 2. 

Featured Visit

Burgundy Wine Expo; French Embassy, Washington, D.C. - Thursday, April 23, 2009
On Thursday April 23 we were invited to a Burgundy Wine Tasting held at the French Embassy and hosted by the Burgundy Wine Board (BIVB). As expected, the expo provided fabulous Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines as well as a nice overview of the Burgundy region. Wine has been produced in this region for over 2,000 years, which is remarkable since many the the ancient wine growing regions are no longer producing wine. We also learned about the five vignobles within Burgundy, from Chablis in the north, through Côte de Nuits to Côte de Beaune and finally to Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais in the south.

We started with the Pinot Noirs and we found a common trait among most of these wines in that the nose was peppery, but on the palate the wine was full cherry flavors with little or no spiciness. Not even a lot of earthiness. Maybe the winemakers are succumbing to the American palate. With over 30 exhibitors we didn't taste wine from every company or even the entire portfolio within an exhibit; with that said, of the wines we tasted, we found some keepers starting the 2005 Clos des Langres Monopole from Domaine d'Ardhuy. Evidently 2005 was an excellent vintage in Burgundy, and this wine reflects that. It is smooth and creamy even with the aforementioned peppery nose. But the tail, no tannins - completely smooth. Located in the Côte de Beaune this winery also produces an excellent Grand Cru from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Beaune was also the region that produced our other two favorites, the Domaine Chanson Pere & Fils, 2005 Clos des Feves and the creamy Bourgogne Parent, 2002 Les Epenottes. There were other outstanding reds. Starting with Maison Louis Latour, Clavelier & Fils, Domaine Tortochot, and Chateau de Melin.

In many cases the actual winemaker was pouring the wines so we were able to meet the families and learn about their history. Many of these wineries have been in the same family for over 5 or 6 generations. One overlooked benefit is that their is an immediate library of facts and history that the winemaker can resource when weather conditions make winemaking difficult. In most situations, there is a documented history to suggest alterations duing the winemaking and evidence how the wine matures in these years. This is difinately somthing missing in the states.

Because of time constraints, we did not sample many chardonnay wines. The Chateau Beru was one of our favorites, producing only whites. Another winery that just produced chardonnay was Cave de Vire. And we can't forget the Closerie des Alisiers - Stephane Brocard. We started with their red Gevrey-Chambertin, but really liked their chardonnay - particularly the 2007 Meursault.

Another benefit of this expo was the booklet of reading material we were able to take home. We will be studying this region, learning more bout its history, regions, wines, and wine-making families.

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