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  • Maryland Mead and Cyser from The Buzz Meadery

    Posted: 2021-10-26 06:00

    The Berlin Commons is a community green space located at 21 Jefferson Street in Berlin and on Friday & Saturday nights The Buzz Meadery pours a selection of meads and ciders from their keg dispensing van.  The meadery was founded by Brett and Meghan Hines, both full-time teachers at Indian River High School. Brett is a long-time home brewer of beer and mead specializing in session products with lower abv.  They produce a range of ciders, meads (honey wine), and cysers (mead and apples) sourced directly from Eastern Shore farmers. They particularly support local farmers who use low or no pesticides in order to keep the honeybee populations healthy.

    During a Friday night tour of breweries west of Ocean City we stopped at the Berlin Commons for a pint. I chose the Apple Cyser (6.9% abv) a carbonated session mead using honey from Apex Bee Company (Preston, MD) and apples from East View Farms (Frankford, DE). This is a refreshing mead, full of apple flavors with a dry and effervescent finish. Later that night I opened a bottle of their Apple + Pear (6.9% abv), another carbonated session mead using wildflower honey (Preston, MD) and apples and pears from their community orchard.  This mead is a little sweeter with the pear slightly dominating the apple but the acidity and effervescence provide a pleasant balance to the sweetness. 

    And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to the Berlin Commons and other Eastern Shore establishments.

  • Grape Spotlight: Nebbiolo Barbaresco DOCG

    Posted: 2021-10-22 08:00

    Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe-Roero and Monferrato: This landscape covers five distinct wine-growing areas with outstanding landscapes and the Castle of Cavour, an emblematic name both in the development of vineyards and in Italian history. It is located in the southern part of Piedmont, between the Po River and the Ligurian Apennines, and encompasses the whole range of technical and economic processes relating to the winegrowing and winemaking that has characterized the region for centuries. Vine pollen has been found in the area dating from the 5th century BC, when Piedmont was a place of contact and trade between the Etruscans and the Celts; Etruscan and Celtic words, particularly wine-related ones, are still found in the local dialect. During the Roman Empire, Pliny the Elder mentions the Piedmont region as being one of the most favourable for growing vines in ancient Italy; Strabo mentions its barrels. UNESCO World Heritage list for its cultural landscapes

    One of these five wine regions is the Barbaresco DOCG, a classification that was created forty years ago. Barbaresco has a slightly maritime climate which means it enjoys a warmer, drier, and milder than its neighbors. The vineyards are located in the Langhe -- on the right-hand side of the Tanaro river and extending from the area northeast of Alba to the communes of Barbaresco, Neive and Treiso, as well as San Rocco Senodelvio (once part of the Barbaresco municipality but now part of Alba). The dominant variety grown is Nebbiolo, but Dolcetto and Barbera also play a part. The vines are generally grown on limestone-rich marl soils. similar to the Tortonium soils of the Barolo and La Morra areas in Barolo, at 650–1300ft (200–400m) above sea level on very steep, "pre-alpine" hills. They are situated on south-facing slopes for best exposure. (wine-searcher.com)

    Nebbiolo is an old cultivar, with historic mentions of the variety going back to the second half of the 13th Century when it was called Nebbiolo di Barbaresco. In Barbaresco, Nebbiolo (little fog) ripens early and contains fewer tannins, and thus is very drinkable at an early age.  However, there is still plenty of acidity and tannins to make this an age-worthy red.  And as the name "little fog" suggests, the grape is resistant to vaper-induced diseases like black rot and downy mildew.

    Barbaresco DOCG regulations stipulate that Barbaresco must have a minimum alcohol content of 12.5 percent and undergo two years of aging, one of which must be spent in wooden barrels. For the added designation of riserva, the aging increases to four years, with one of those years in wood. Barbaresco wines are characterized by their rich, spicy flavors and perfumed sweetness and are considered more elegant and refined than their Barola counterpart.

    Recently we opened a bottle of one of these elegant and refined wines from winemaker Stella Grasso through MGM Mondo del Vino and available in the United States through importer Mack & Schuhle Inc. The  Riva Leone Barbaresco 2017 ($25) is medium-bodied, with structured cherries, mint, tea, and lasting acidity and tannins.  An exceptional wine. 

  • Grape Spotlight: Terre Siciliane IGT Pinot Grigio

    Posted: 2021-10-19 17:00

    IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) is an Italian classification that was introduced in 1992 in order to allow a certain level of freedom to Italy's winemakers. Prior to 1992, many wines failed to qualify for DOC or DOCG status – not because they were of low quality, but because they were made from grape varieties (or blends) not sanctioned under DOC/G laws. The IGT classification focuses on the region of origin, rather than grape varieties or wine styles. -- Italian Wine Label Information 

    Because of its dry, warm climate with regular sunshine and moderate rainfall which reduce the chance of rot and mildew, residents of Siciliy have been producing wine for 4,000 years. Archaeological evidence supports this proposition as amphorae found in Sicily show that the Phoenicians were trading and consuming wine in the IX-IV century BC. The Greek colonization in the VIII-III century BC expanded viticulture by introducing Grecanico and other grapes; while the Romans spread Sicilian wine. Both Greek and Latin literary sources refer to the renowned Sicilian wines. Pliny mentioned the Mamertino from Messina, when Cesare toasted the party for his triumph at the third consulate. In Pompeii, Sicilian wine jars were found, which competed with the local ones from Campania, although they were also appreciated. Remnants of Sicilian wine have also been found in Gaul. (Vine and Wine in the history of Sicily)

    Since the Roman era, the strength of Sicilian viticulture oscillated between Muslim, Norman, Spanish, and other conquests to the modern era where the Sicilia IGT was created to encompass the island.  However, in 2011, the Sicilia IGT was upgraded to a newly-created Sicilia DOC and the Terre Siciliane IGT was created as a replacement. The name Terre Siciliane translates to "Sicilian lands" and thus covers the entire island and Terre Siciliane IGT wines can be made any style: red, white, or rosé, still or sparkling, dry or sweet.  

    - white, also in the sparkling, sparkling, passito, late harvest, and liqueur types;
    - red, also in the sparkling, passito, late harvest, new and fortified types;
    - rosé, also in the sparkling, sparkling, passito type.
    - with the specification of one of the grape varieties suitable for cultivation in the Sicily Region.
    - with the specification of two or three or four vines included among those suitable for cultivation in the Sicily Region.

    In the majority of cases, international varieties are used in this classification, but in our example, the white mutation of the Pinot family, Pinot Grigio is the focus. Although this grape is most prevalent in northern Italy it is planted in sufficient quantities in Sicily and when produced as a Terre Siciliane white wine must have a minimum total alcoholic strength by volume of 10.50% vol; a minimum total acidity of 3.50g / l; and a minimum sugar-free extract of 13.0 g / l.

    Barone Montalto is located in the province of Trapani in Santa Ninfa and the Belice Valley. They manage approximately 400 hectares of vineyards, some of which are owned and others supervised under the Montalto quality protocol which controls the viticulture methods at each vineyard site. They also operate under the Mack & Schuehle Group and many of their wines are available in the United States through importer Mack & Schuhle Inc. One of these wines is the Barone Montalto Collezione Di Famiglia Terre Siciliane IGT Pinot Grigio 2020 ($12). It is of tremendous value. Expect a pale color, yet deep citrus and literal wet stone on the palate. Gone in a blink of an eye.  

  • A Virginia Wine Month Visit to The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm

    Posted: 2021-10-15 19:03
    For Columbus Day we decided to visit a Virginia winery particularly since October is Virginia Wine Month and settled on the recently opened The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm. Although, don't let their name detract from the presence of a brewery and cider house onsite. In fact, this Gainesville operation is an adult playground with three types of craft beverages, its plethora of firepits and picnic tables, live music on the weekends, and widespread views of Lake Manassas. Too bad public access is not available for the lake - looks like a wasted fishing opportunity. 

    Our visit started with a flight of four wines - all produced using Virginia sourced grapes: 2019 Chardonnay ($33), 2020 Viognier ($34), 2019 Riesling ($33), and 2019 Cabernet Franc ($36). I preferred the chewy Cabernet Franc but was outvoted for a bottle of the very drinkable Viognier.  I didn't object because I also wanted to taste through a flight of beers starting with those brewed at Sunshine Ridge. Some of their beers come from Beltway Brewing, a very respectable contract brewer. My clear favorites from this flight were the Sowing Oats (Spiced Farmhouse Ale, 5.6% ABV, 26 IBU), Double Dog Dare Ya! (Double IPA, 8.0% ABV), and Picnic Porter (Robust Porter, 6.2% ABV, 44 IBU). Not normally an IPA lover, the Double Dog is outstanding - hazy citrus, tropical, earthy, and so smooth.

    I have a feeling I will be returning very soon seeing the Scott Kurt is scheduled for several nights starting this weekend to into December.  And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you there.

  • Grape Spotlight: Republic of Georgia Imereti Otskhanuri Sapere

    Posted: 2021-10-12 17:00
    Imereti is one of ten wine regions distinguished by the Wines of Georgia and it is located in western-central Georgia and situated along the middle and upper reaches of the Rioni River.  It is bordered by the Likha ridge, the Caucasus ridge, the Meskheti mountains, and the Tskhenistskali river, which weaken the moderating influences of the Black Sea. Imereti's climate is mainly humid subtropical with weaker influences from the Black Sea; winters in Imereti are mostly cold and summers are drier and hotter. Since 70% of the region is mountainous, vineyards in Imereti are mainly cultivated in river valleys from 50 to 500 meters above sea level. 

    In terms of winemaking and viticulture, Imereti is divided into three zones: Upper, Middle, and Lower Imereti. Both climatic and soil differences occur between these zones, although in general, Imereti contains mostly stony and calcareous soils, with limestone and carbonate rocky soils present on occasion.  Both traditional and modern techniques are used in both areas from the modern training systems of vines to the very traditional training method for Imereti using low poles. In addition, winemaking occurs in both modern stainless steel and in Qvevri --which is called Churi in the Imereti region.  The Churi jugs are buried in the ground where the underground temperature is consistent and the micro-oxidation processes give the wine an amber color. This process also softens the tannins into a velvety structure. 

    Imereti is most known for its white wines as the Imereti climate is conducive to producing highly acidic and fresh wines. However, the region's red wine production is increasing, starting with the ancient Otskhanuri Sapere. In fact, this is one of the oldest grape varieties in Georgia with the historic center in the village of Otskhana. Like white grapes, Otskhanuri Sapere is known for its high acidity and gentle body.   On the vine, the grape is a late ripener and generally resistant to many vine diseases. 

    One producer is Vartsikhe Marani located in the village of Vartsikhe in Imereti, Georgia. According to the winery, "Vartsikhe Marani owns vineyards in Georgia’s western Imereti region as well as the eastern Kakheti Region. In its western location, the air from the Black Sea to the west and the Caucasus Mountains in the north creates a humid subtropical climate, offering optimal conditions for the cultivation of several rare indigenous grape varieties unique to the region".  They produce 100% natural wines made in Churi using "traditional Georgian methods dating back thousands of years".  

    During a recent Wines of Georgia tasting, we were able to sample the 2017 Vartsikhe Marani Otskhanuri Sapere Dry Red Wine that was bottle 343 out of only 950 produced.  The aroma was very herbaceous with dark fruit spreading through the palate that was balanced with layers of structured and creeping tannins. An excellent wine.  The U.S. importer is Terraneo Merchants. Cheers to Georgian wine. 

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