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  • Sud-Ouest France, Fronton, Gaillac, & IGP Comte Tolosan Through the Wines of Vignobles Arbeau

    Posted: 2021-05-14 16:56

    Sud-Ouest France (south-West, France) is a large territorial zone stretching just southwest of Bordeaux to the Atlantic Ocean and bordering the Pyrenees to the south.  It incorporates several administrative regions, diverse geographic areas, and multiple wine grapes and styles. This includes sweet wines from Jurancon and Monbazillac; tannic, full-blooded reds from Cahors (Côt aka Malbec) and Madiran (Tannat); sparkling wines from Gaillac; and a wide range of dry white wines.

    Wine Scholar Guild

    According to, "The soils, climates, and topography of the South West are as wide-ranging as its wines. The presence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea means that much of the region has a maritime climate, but there are inland areas that make use of the drier, hotter summers created by their more continental climate. The Garonne, Dordogne, Lot, and Tarn rivers bring alluvial soil types (clay, sand, gravel) to much of the region. Other vineyard areas, such as Irouleguy and the wider Bearn are also set on the steep slopes and foothills of the Pyrenees mountains, offering a variety of stone types, along with varying altitudes and aspects".

    A recent Hopwine exhibition included a couple wineries from the Sud-Ouest starting with Vignobles Arbeau. The winery and estate (Château Coutinel) are located in the village of Labastide Saint Pierre, within the AOP Fronton, with the village located 42km north of Toulouse and about equidistant between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. They also range beyond AOP Fronton to other South-West domains: AOP Gaillac, IGP Comté Tolosan, and IGP Côtes du Tarn. Our friends at Grape Experiences have a post concerning the winery's history and signature Négrette grape. 

    AOP Fronton is an appellation to the north of Toulouse known for its rustic red wines (around 85 percent of production) in addition to smaller amounts of rosé. At least 50 percent of any Fronton vineyard must be planted with the Negrette grape (40% of any blended wine). Since the berries are small and tightly bundled, they are susceptible to powdery mildew and grey rot. Thus, the vines prefer hot, dry growing conditions and thrive in Fronton's dry, semi-continental climate. It is also particularly fond of the region's acidic, sandy clay boulbène soil type. 

    Chateau Coutinel France - Sud-Ouest AOC Fronton Rosé 2020
    This is a blend of 70% Négrette, 15% Syrah, and 15% Gamay grown on boulben, sandy-silt, and sometimes gravely soils.  This is a pleasant wine, candied cherry aroma, velvety texture, and lifting acids.

    Chateau Coutinel France - Sud-Ouest AOC Fronton 2019
    Same blend and soil types as the rosé showing fresh sizzling raspberries. Poprocks?

    Chateau Coutinel Négrette / On L'appelle Négrette France - Sud-Ouest Fronton 2019
    100%  Negrette grown on same soil types. This is a delicious wine, juicy and dense blackberries, some licorice, with suitable tannins and acids.

    IGP Comte Tolosan is a large sub-region in the Sud-Ouest and encompasses 12 administrative departments, including the sub-regions of Jurançon, Cahors and Armagnac. The IGP label provides a geographical classification to wines that do not classify for the AOC-level appellations due to the grape variety or winemaking style. "Most IGP-related viticulture takes place in the center of the basin, along the course of the Garonne river. Old alluvial terraces provide well-drained, rocky environments for the vines, allowing for good flavor concentration in the grapes and deep, healthy root systems".

    One popular grape in the IGP and other sub-regions is Braucol, a member of the Carmenets family and originating in the Spanish Basque Country. It is thought to have migrated to the region via pilgrims traveling the Way of Saint James. Specifically, it was spread by the Benedictine monks of Madiran and Conques who had recognized its rusticity allowing its cultivation in the Pyrenees and Aveyron. A synonym is Fer Servadou translating to wild and keeps well because it's a lambrusque (wild vine) and is highly resistant to mold. 

    Domaine De Coutinel France - Sud-Ouest IGP Comté Tolosan Braucol 2020
    This 100% Braucol wine begins with slight pepper but retains a soft elegance that carries through the finish.

    AOP Gaillac is a historic wine-producing region located northeast of Toulouse and covers 64 communes spread out for roughly 20km (12 miles) from the town of Gaillac on the Tarn river. A further nine communes within the appellation lie on the other side of the town of Albi, on the eastern edge of the main winegrowing area. 

    Duras – Fer – Syrah is the classic Gaillac wine blend with the Fer referring to Braucol. Together these three varieties make up at least 60 percent of any Gaillac red or rosé wine. Duras is an ancient grape variety, thought to have been introduced to France by the Romans more than 2000 years ago. In Sud-Ouest France, notably around Gaillac, it produces well-structured red wines full of color and alcohol.

    Domaine Vaillieres France - Sud-Ouest AOP Gaillac 2019
    This blend of 50% Braucol, 25% Duras, and 25% Syrah is from grapes from clay and limestone soils on the right bank of the Tarn River. It is very rustic, with a spicy-stoney character accentuated with a strong tannic backbone. A knockout. 

  • A Free State Collaboration: Dragon Dog's Frederick Rye Whiskey

    Posted: 2021-05-11 20:31

    Frederick Maryland is at the crossroads of many family road trips,  those leading north on Route 15 towards Thurmont and Pennsylvania or those leading west towards Cumberland, Seven Springs, and beyond.  It also explains the high frequency of Civil War battles fought in the city or surrounding land including the battles of Antietam and to some extent Gettysburg.  Today, Frederick city and county is a craft beverage destination with a plethora of wineries, cideries, breweries, and distilleries. 

    Two of these are Maryland's largest brewery, Flying Dog Brewery, and Dragon Distillery. Flying Dog beers are widely distributed, of excellent quality, and are known for the Hunter S. Thompson inspired labels drawn by artist Ralph Steadman. Dragon Distillery is a small operation whose Frederick county roots dates to the mid-1700s.  Some of their products are inspired by the Founder's great-grandfather Bad Bill Tutt and long-held family recipes. 

    A newer recipe is a collaboration between Flying Dog and Dragon called Dragon Dog's Frederick Rye Whiskey ($42, 48%) and is marketing as "Frederick's first Rye Whiskey". Flying Dog prepares a mash using a proprietary blend of nine specialty rye grains which is then fermented and aged at the distillery. Over ice, the spirit provides a spicy wet stone aroma, with the spice and rye packing cinnamon and other dry baing spices. The heat is noticeable upfront but quickly backs off during the tail. 

    And as a BevFluence contributor, we are still beating the Negroni drum via recipes from Negroni, More than 30 classic and modern recipes for Italy's iconic cocktail ($12) by David T. Smith and  Keli Rivers available by Ryland, Peters, & Small.  An offshoot of the Boulevardier is the Old Pal which replaces the bourbon with rye whiskey and calls for equal parts rye, Campari, and Cochi Americano or red vermouth.  My version of the Old Pal uses the Mt. Defiance Distillery Sweet Vermouth ($19, 350ml) (pre-mixed with Campari) and with the Dragon Dog provides a very dry and chalky version of this cocktail where it feels like the glass has been rimmed with cinnamon powder.  

  • Exploring the Tampa Ale Trail

    Posted: 2021-05-01 10:04

    This week we spent several days in the St. Pete - Clearwater area in order to attend a couple MLB games (saw Vlad's three dingers) which afforded opportunities to visit several breweries along the Tampa Ale Trail. There are 81 breweries participating in the 2021 passport program - located as far north as the Greek community in Tarpon Springs through the BlueJay city of Dunedin to Tampa then St. Petersburg and ending at rejuvenated Gulfport. 

    Cigar City Brewing
    Located within a mile of the Tampa Airport, this iconic Florida brewery recently expanded its tasting room since my last visit. At this location, they also provide in-house only offerings like the Terrifyingly Competent -- a juicy American Pale Ale. This pairs nicely with the Cuban Meatloaf. Follow with a taster of the Bon Vivant's Companion - an American sour ale with raspberries aged in rum and orange curacao barrels.

    Clearwater Brewing Company
    Housed on a formal gas station this brewery is situated on the outskirts of north Clearwater on the short drive to Dunedin. Although there are about eight breweries within a 3/4 mile radius in that town, don't overlook Clearwater Brewing. The front and back patios provide enough open space to enjoy the Comfy Cream Ale - one of the best of these styles we've tasted.  For the sour lover, go for the raspberry puree Raspberry Romper Calzone Berliner Weisse -- this is richer than others. 

    Cycle Brewing
    Located in downtown St. Pete and part of an easy walking brewery tour this brewery specializes in its barrel program - most notably aging stout with different ingredients.  Our favorite is the Cherry Wine - a rare DOS aged in Frederiksdal Cherry Wine barrels for 34 months. This is dense with notes of dark chocolate covered cherries. The Saturday is equally dense with copious amounts of chocolate and for a little kick try the Rare DOS 1 Year Aged -- aged one year in a used whiskey barrel. 

    Gulfport Brewery + Eatery
    This brewery was a great find - not only the establishment itself but also walking the small downtown area of Gulfport. This town had experienced depressed conditions for a number of years until receiving a Federal revitalization grant which they put to good use. Plenty of food is available - which is a condition for any business selling alcohol in the town - plus another barrel program based on the Gulfporter, an American Porter.  Of the four, the Toasted Walnut & Honey was the favorite -- this reminiscent of a Walnut liqueur. But don't skip the Tahitian Vanilla & Coconut, Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate, or the Mocha Coffee.  And definitely, don't skip the Disston City Lager, named after Gulfport's former name and a fantastic representation of a Pre-Prohibition Pilsner.  Love it when breweries produce solid lighter beers where there's no place to hide defects.

    Overflow Brewing Company
    Another downtown St. Pete brewery and with an extensive beer list, particularly for those who enjoy a sour lineup. The Obsidian Currants is reminiscent of a Flemish sour and extremely tart. The Persimmon Punch is a tropical fruit drink and the Flowers Just Because is a tasty and light Berliner Weisse. The favorite however is the Going Green, a Gose made like a superfoods smoothie - kale, spinach, celery, apples, and more. The veggies are subtle.

    St. Pete Brewing Company
    The original St. Pete brewery, this one offers both several IPAs and lighter-styled beers. For the latter, the Put Me In Kolsch is your daytime quaffer - packing plenty of flavors. In the evening theirs a Scottish Ale, Imperial Stout, Tripel -- but Localtopia IPA with the aromatic hops was our choice. 

  • Grape Spotlight: Ancient Armenian Voskehat & Areni

    Posted: 2021-04-29 15:28

    Genesis 9.20:  Now Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard.

    Archaeological evidence uncovered in 2010 shows that grape growing and wine-making in ancient Armenia pre-date the biblical flood and Noah's planting of grapes in the mountains of Ararat by 1,500 years. "... researchers with the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Armenian Institute of Archeology and Ethnography unearthed archeological evidence of the world's oldest known winery in the village of Areni in southeastern Armenia. Beneath a layer of sheep manure inside a cave, the remains of crushed grapes and vessels for collecting and fermenting grape juice dating to 6,100 years ago were recovered, proving that humans produced wine systematically one thousand years earlier than thought. Additionally, traces of a grape used in red wine production today were found on pot shards at the excavation site, forging a new link between ancient and modern wine production." -- Smithsonian Magazine

    Present-day Armenia consists of several wine regions with the focus here on a trio: Aragatsotn, Armavir, and Vayots Dzor. Aragatsotn is a wine region that dates back to the time of Noah. located between 1000-1400 meters above sea level, the region lies near Yerevan -- the capital and largest city of Armenia and one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities. With Ararat visible in the distance, this region is the birthplace of the old Armenian grape type Voskehat, known as the “queen” of Armenian grapes, and was first cultivated 3500 years ago. 

    Armavir is a province in the northwest of Armenia and is the largest region for quality wine production in the country as well as for brandy distilling. Most of the vineyards on the plain lie between 900 and 1,100 meters in altitude (2,950 to 3,600ft). Vineyards are mostly planted in volcanic soils.

    Vayots Dzor is a mountainous province in southeastern Armenia. As described above, it is one of the oldest documented wine-producing regions in the world and is the birthplace of Areni, the country’s main indigenous red variety. The vineyards here lie mainly between 950 and 1,200 meters above sea level (3,100 to 3,950ft). 

    Storica Wines is an Armenian wine import company providing access to several Armenian wineries to the American consumer.  Two of these are Keush and Zulal -- both started by Vahe Keushguerian and his family.  "Over the past decade or so, he has identified numerous ancient indigenous varieties and set up multiple nurseries to revive and propagate them throughout the country’s fledgling wine industry" -- Noah's ArtKeush is a label based on the family name and specializes in sparkling wine. The Zulal brand attempts to find the purest expression of the local environment by selecting combing rows of abandoned vineyards and after genetically identifying the grape variety, harvesting enough to fill a tank.  Obviously a painstaking endeavor. 

    KEUSH Origins ($25.99) sparkling wine is a blend of the Armenian indigenous varieties Voskehat and Khatouni. In fact, this wine is the first traditional method sparkler crafted with Armenian indigenous grapes. Just imagine sparkling lemon and nut bread. These grapes were harvested from vineyards 1,750m above sea level planted in limestone soils on volcanic rock. The 6,000-year-old Armenian viticulture history comes alive with Origins. 

    Zulal Voskehat 2018 ($19.99, 13%)
    Voskehat translates to "goldenberry" and is a late-ripening thick-skinned ancient grape variety. It is widespread in Aragatsotn, Armavir, and Vayots Dzor. According to the winery, "Voskehat is known for its complex stone fruity aromas and has been used for a wide range of wine types including dry white, sparkling, as well as dessert, and fortified wines". The grapes for this wine were grown on volcanic soils at 1400 meters in Aghavnadzor village of Vayots Dzor region.  The wine starts with honeysuckle, then mostly pears with depth and slightly herbaceous. Full mouthfeel

    Zulal Areni 2018 ($21.99, 13%)
    The grapes for this wine were grown at 1400-1750 meter elevations in volcanic soil from the Aghavnadzor and Khachik villages of Vayots Dzor.  This wine has medium body and tannins, slight white pepper and mint, long sizzling acidity,

    Zulal Areni Reserve 2018 ($32.99, 14%)
    The grapes for this wine were grown on a single plot of volcanic soil situated at 1200 meters in the Arpa Valley, Vayots Dzor. As opposed to the wine above, the Reserve undergoes additional oak treatment which rounds out the flavor profile and adds a little spice. Expect velvety blueberries, slight, slight spice, great mouthfeel - long finish. 

    Disclosure: We received samples from Storca in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

  • Grape Spotlight: More Côtes du Jura Savagnin with Pinot Noir

    Posted: 2021-04-19 06:00

    In a previous post on the Grape Spotlight thread Jura Savagnin & Vin Jaune, I related the Vin Jaune oxidative winemaking practice and the intriguing Jura region and because of the Hopwine program, I'm able to expand further with wines from Domaine Noir Freres.  Jura's is a cool climate with warm, relatively dry summers and cold winters, and the majority of Jura's vines are planted on south-facing slopes -- to absorb as much of the sun's rays. A minority of vineyards are located in the more mountainous areas of eastern Jura, where heights can reach p to 4,500ft (1370m). However, the majority of vines are planted in the slightly lower-lying land in the west which average 1,000ft (305m).

    "It should come as no surprise that the key soil types here are Jurassic limestone and marlstone. The Jurassic period was named after Jura because the region's limestone mountains are representative of the geological developments which occurred between 145 million and 200 million years ago. The name of L'Etoile, the village which is home to one of Jura's most distinctive appellations, is said to be derived from the star-shaped marine fossils which characterize its limestone-rich soils (etoile is French for 'star'). Chablis and the upper Loire Valley are built on a similar geological structure". -- wine-searcher

    DalGobboM - Own work CC BY-SA 3.0

    Although our package didn't include a Vin Jaune, it showcased three of Domaine Noir Freres' most prolific grape varieties.  Limestone = pinot noir and the Côtes du Jura Pinot Noir - 2018 is exceptional. The structure is solid, surrounded by light cherries and decent tannins. Similar to the family's Poligny vineyard being located in the heart of Jura and saturated in limestone and marlstone. Pre-phylloxera, red wine grapes dominated the region, and Jura Pinot Noir may move the ratio closer to older times. 

    That being said, Savagnin Blanc is the region's signature grape and it provides a spicy and funky profile to 100% varietal or blended wines. Domaine Noir Freres banishes the grape to 12 to 24 months in oak for the Côtes du Jura Cuvée " Creux d'enfer" - 2018 Savagnin Floral and expect a vibrant floral aroma. The wine has a Roussanne-ish quality with great depth. And the 24-month aged Côtes du Jura Cuvée Tradition - 2018 blended with Chardonnay has similar Roussanne pungent perfume qualities with major spicy and nutty notes. I would love a 750ml of this lady. - a Tradex Consulting company
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