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  • Grape Spotlight: Colli di Rimini Rebola (Pignoletto, Grechetto di Todi)

    Posted: 2020-08-12 08:41
    The northern Italian province of Emilia-Romagna emanates history.  In ancient times it was populated by Thessalians, Etruscans, Celts, and Umbrians -- all before the Romans ascended to power. It contains the Rubicon River which  Julius Caesar crossed in 49 BC, setting the stage for the Ides of March drama. The port city of Ravenna became the capital of the Western Holy Roman Empire in AD 402 and is where King Theodoric the Great established the capital for the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy. In the Middle Ages, the province changed ownership between various competing principalities and kingdoms, but the University of Bologna remained a constant source of higher education. It is the oldest university in Europe having been established in AD 1088. And more consequential to our focus, Emilia-Romagna has always been considered one of the richest regions of Italy in regards to wine-making tradition.
    Emilia-Romagna is a rich, fertile region of northern Italy, and one of the country's most prolific wine regions – more than 136,000 acres (55,000ha) were under vine in 2010. At 150 miles (240km) wide, it spans almost the entire width of the northern Italian peninsula, sandwiched between Tuscany to the south, Lombardy and Veneto to the north and the Adriatic Sea to the east. Nine miles of Liguria is all that separates Emilia-Romagna from the Ligurian Sea, and uniqueness as the only Italian region with both an east and a west coast. (
    Vines were first introduced to the region by the Etruscans and widely adopted by the Romans. Most interestingly, the grape varieties planted in previous centuries were of the Vitis labrusca species rather than the Vitis vinifera. For example, Emilia-Romagna's famous Lambrusco varieties are derived from the Vitis labrusca species.  Today, there are 20 or so DOC titles, and one of these, Colli di Rimini, is located south of Ravenna bordered by the Adriatic Sea to the east and by the Apennines Mountains to the west.

    Courtesy of
    The Colli di Rimini DOC was created in November 1996 and a 2009 re-classification favored a shift to varietal wines with Cabernet Sauvignon and Rebola the featured grapes. If a wine is made from at least 85% of either one, the name of that variety is included as part of the DOC title on labels: Colli di Rimini Cabernet Sauvignon and Colli di Rimini Rebola. DNA evidence that Rebola is the name given to Pignoletto (the Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto DOC) which is also the same as Umbria's Grechetto di Todi.

    The first written documentation of Rebola dates to 1378 and refers to it as "Ruibola" or "Greco" and according to "Rebola is a fruity and velvety wine, easy to pair with food and able to feature complex perfumes and tastes when aged in wooden barrels or casks".

    One Colli di Rimini producer that we recently sampled through the Hopwine program is Vini San Valentino. Their organically grown vines are situated a few kilometers from the Adriatic on the hills of Rimini.  These coastal vineyards receive evening breezes to cool the grapes after a day of abundant sunshine. The Mascarin family has owned the property since 1990 and has concentrated on Sangiovese, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Rebola. Two Rebola wines were included in our Hopwine kit and these wines impressed with their richness and structure. The 2019 Colli di Rimini Scabi Rebola is extremely complex - floral with various tropical and stone fruit notes that combine with its depth and refreshing acids to leave a lasting impression. The 2018 Colli di Rimini Rebola ViVi is even more impressionable. Named after the owner's late wife Valeria Vivian, this wine flows seamlessly through a current of creamy peaches with textured layers of acidity.   I'd cross the Rubicon for this wine.

    Update:  Vini San Valentino wines are available in Maryland and Michigan and will be soon available in NY, NJ, Massachusetts, Texas, Rhode Island.
  • Historical Significance at New Market Plains Vineyards, Maryland

    Posted: 2020-08-05 14:55

    In 1793 the town of New Market was founded by Nicholas Hall Sr. and William Plummer as a rest and trade stop along the Baltimore Turnpike wagon trail. The two gentlemen understood the commercial value of the turnpike and turned a half-mile section of the trail into New Market’s Main Street. In twenty years the town had grown into an important trade center for wagoners and other travelers and included "a button factory, nail factory, wheelwright shops, blacksmith shops, tanneries, dry gods, grocery stores, inns, taverns, livery stables, wagon stands, " and most importantly -- distilleries. In 1818:
    ..the Baltimore Turnpike became the eastern section of the National Turnpike, one of the most famous and well-traveled highways in America. The Town of New Market became an integral part of the western trade route and the multitudes who opened America’s new frontiers passed through the center of town. The first stagecoaches carrying mail traveled Main Street. Over the road came heavy freight and Conestoga wagons loaded with grain, whiskey, tobacco, lumber, iron, furs, and other products. Passenger coaches and fancy buggies stopped at the hotels, inns, and taverns. Herds of cattle, sheep, and pigs were driven through to market. Peddlers came with carts and many traveled on foot carrying all they owned on their backs. (Town of New Market)
    Eventually, the railroad and the automobile would reduce the trade and rest stop significance of New Market -- but not its historical significance. And on December 6, 1975, the Town of New Market was placed on the National Register of Historical Places and under the supervision of the Department of the Interior.

    At the same time, Susan Wilson, a direct descendent of Nicholas Hall Sr., was raised on the family dairy farm -- the same farm that lost a slice of land in 1792 in order to develop the town.  "Many of the old outbuildings remain intact or restored, including a stone dairy/ice house, log smokehouse with a slate roof, log chicken house, log wagon shed and stable, frame general store/tenant house, early 1900's bank barn, and a tile dairy barn (now the winery) built-in 1941" (New Market Plains Vineyards).

    When she and her husband Howard inherited the property they drained their 401K accounts and planted Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Muscat Blanc, Petit Verdot, and Syrah vines in 2012.  Their first harvest occurred two years later and the estate was christened New Market Plains Vineyards.

    Recently we were able to enjoy the fruits of this original harvest in the 2014 Rich Forest Chardonnay ($20).  This wine is made in the Burgundian style starting with barrel fermenting and finishing in oak. This wine shows why the winery is becoming state renowned for its Chardonnay as it is balanced between oak and juice with creamy lemons and fresh acids. Our group also finished a bottle of the 2015 Windy Day White ($23), a blend of Muscat Blanc and Chardonnay that is aged in stainless steel.  The strong floral aroma is readily evident followed by tropical and citrus characters with the fresh acids alleviating the slight 0.7% sugar. We are looking forward to our next visit. Cheers. 
  • Grape Spotlight: Herzegovina Blatina

    Posted: 2020-07-28 07:00
    Most cultivated grapevines are hermaphroditic -- meaning that their flowers are both male and female and thus, can self-pollenate. These grapevine flowers have no petals and grow on stem clusters that will eventually turn into grape clusters (1).  However, some grapevine flowers are completely female and require cross-pollination. In these cases, the vineyards are interplanted with other grape varieties that then pollinate the female vines. Natural pollination is a fickle process so over time yields from these female grapevines are very unstable. As a result, these grapes are generally obscure and only planted in regions where the grape has historic significance (2).

    Blatina (Blah-tee-nah) is one such female grape and only in Herzegovina -- specifically south of Mostar Bosnia around the towns of Čitluk, Međugorje, Ljubuški, and Čapljina.  Blatina vineyards are interplanted with a few vines of either Alicante Bouchet (Kambuša), Merlot, and Trnjak in order to cross-pollinate.  When pollination does take effect the fermented wine is generally full-bodied with juicy dark fruit. This Wines of Illyria Blatina ($10) is definitely full-bodied with juicy plum and blackberries and uniquely a little chocolate dirt. Very old world. The recommended food pairings are grilled red meats, chicken, sausage, or seafood paella made with red peppers and onions and we confirm the grilled red meats (mititei or cevapi).

    (1) How to Tell a Male Grapevine From a Female Grapevine
    (2) Female Grape Varieties
  • Key West: A Craft Beverage Destination

    Posted: 2020-07-23 13:09
    Key West is known for its many interesting features such as home to the Southernmost Point in the Continental US, Truman's Little White House, Hemingway's House & the six-toed cat, roosters, and drinking. Yes, this is mostly the irresponsible variety but for those who are more responsible, there are five craft beverage establishments on the key that are worth a visit.

    Key West was also home to America's first overseas air transport flight when on October 19, 1927, a Pan American World Airways Fairchild FC-2 floatplane delivered mail from Key West to Havana.  From that date until its "collapse" on December 4, 1991, Pan Am was the principal and largest international air carrier in the United States. In Key West tickets were sold out of their building on 301 Whitehead Street and since the company's closure has operated as a brewpub first under the ownership of actress Kelly McGillis (Kelly's Caribbean Bar Grill & Brewery) and now as First Flight Island Restaurant & Brewery. This brewery has a core lineup of beers that cater to the tourism market - an Amber, IPA, and Wheat ale; but they also produce a limited release series where the best action occurs. The Czech Engine Pilsner is spot on and their Beach Day IPA is a juicy blend of tropical fruits. For dessert hope the Midnight Landing Honey Porter or Nuts & Bolts Chocolate Peanut Butter Ale are on tap.

    As its name implies, The Waterfront Brewery overlooks the Key West Historic Seaport and Bight and operates as a brewery, restaurant, and a licensed wholesaler of Florida Keys finfish and shellfish. The brewery offers a strong portfolio ranging from an Island Life Lager to the TruMan Double IPA. Both of these are well made, the first a refreshing quaffer, the second a rather smooth and complex offering. However, our two favorites were the Key Lime Gose and Lazy Way IPA - both provide tropical flavors with the kettle-soured Gose tart and refreshing while the Lazy Way is a juicy, juicy IPA.

    Being so close to the Caribbean Key West is practically synonymous with rum and the first place to imbibe is the Key West First Legal Rum Distillery -- opened in 2012 by Chef Paul Menta and Tony Mantia.  The distillery is housed in a building built in 1900 that was the original location of Jack's Saloon and once a Coca-Cola bottling facility. Today the building houses distilling equipment that cranks out several styles of rum from a clean white to flavored to a high octane 105 Simonton Rum.  The rums are produced by fermenting sugarcane juice which is then generally distilled six times. If the rum is aged they use salt-cured barrels and when flavored they utilize locally-sourced food flavors.  Our overall favorite was the Aged Key West Raw and Unfiltered Rum ($63) aged in new American oak barrels. The distillery never uses previously used barrels and instead purchased #3 charred barrels which they fill with fresh seawater. Overnight the barrel expands and in the morning the water is drained and the barrels cure in the sun. The salt residual opens the pores of the wood allowing the rum to soak up more of the wood nuances such as fig, plum, vanilla, and pepper. This raw and unfiltered rum definitely has these characteristics as well as a bit of funk - that makes it truly unique. This make is compatible with a Dark and Stormy and even more compatible by adding grapefruit juice to that cocktail plus a little lime. The other rum we purchased was the Cuban Coffee Rum ($35) where dark roasted coffee beans are aged in rum barrels to create a coffee extract. Then  Demerara sugar is toasted and added to the coffee in order to create a "true Key West Colada Cafe". The rum is savory and we've used as a morning quick start or an evening dessert.

    The island also features two other distilleries that we were unable to visit. Papa's Pilar Rum is also located on Simonton Street and concentrates on one iconic rum brand named after the famous author and his fishing boat.  Key West Distilling just moved to the Stock Island Marina Village and goes beyond rum by also producing whiskey, vodka, and gin -- the latter two using Florida sugar cane. Next trip to the Keys. Cheers.
  • Grape Spotlight: Montenegro & Herzegovina Vranac

    Posted: 2020-07-24 07:07
    Last October, the Embassy of Montenegro poured an excellent Plantaze Vranac ProCorde Special Reserve Dry Red Wine wine during an International Club of DC dinner. For many of us, it was the first time sampling this ancient grape that is indigenous to this relatively dry, mountainous, and Mediterranean climate. Specifically, the grapes for this wine were grown in the Podgorica subregion, Montenegrin basin of Lake Skadar - the largest lake in Southern Europe and shared with Albania. This Vranac was a dense wine with dark fruit, firm tannins, earthiness, and abundant acidity - the latter being retained by the cooler climate.  DNA  evidence also suggests that Vranac is related to Kratosija - the local synonym for Tribidrag-Crljenak Kastelanski, Primitivo and Zinfandel.

    From Montenegro, Vranac spread to southward into the Macedonian Republic which has the largest plantings of this blacked skinned grape and northward into Bosnia-Herzegovina which has the third-largest planting.  In Herzegovina, plantings are clustered around Mostar which is a much hotter Mediterranean climate than Montenegro - yet Vranac is still able to retain its acidity even in warm climates. This was evident by the 2012 Wines of Illyria Vranac ($17) which resembles Italian Primitivo rather than American Zinfandel as this Black Stallion has disciplined juicy dark red fruit and layers of acidity. It finishes with a hint of bitterness and saline.  This and other Illyria wines are available on the East Coast and hopefully soon in the DC area through Siema Wines. - a Tradex Consulting company
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