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  • Cecchi 2014 La Mora Vermentino - from Chianti Classico to Maremma Toscana

    Posted: 2017-03-23 15:35
    The Maremmano is a horse breed native to the Maremma area of Tuscany and Lazio in Italy that has transitioned from a working horse with livestock to a saddle horse today. The horse is known for its dark chestnut or black color as well as its solid frame and ability to adapt to bad weather and rough terrain. Chianti Classico producer Cecchi Family Estate pays homage to the horse by displaying a depiction of the Maremmano horse on the label and naming their Maremma Toscana brand La Mora - for the black horse.  These wines are produced from grapes grown in the Maremma Toscana D.O.C. - a region located in the southwestern part of Tuscany bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea. It recently gained D.O.C. status in 2011; yet in 1996 the Cecchi family purchased 360 acres of Maremma vineyards expanding out of Chianti Classico, the winery's home since the late 19th century.

    At a recent tasting Andrea Cecchi spoke proudly about the family's Maremma Toscana wines and I can see why in respect to the 2014 La Mora Vermentino ($20, 13% ABV)This is not your standard Vermentino wine. Yes it is lively with stone minerality, but a touch of malolactic fermentation provide richness not seen in others.  And the wine provides a deep stone fruit flavor accompanied by a dry and refreshing finish. Nicely done.
  • The Tastemakers Table Presents Rías Baixas Albariño

    Posted: 2017-03-15 14:59
    I've been infatuated with Albarino wine since last year's WineStudio's foray into DO Rías Baixas - Spain's unique Galician wine region. Unlike most of Spain, this region is lush with greenery that is fed from 71 inches of annual rainfall. The white Albariño grape dominates DO Rías Baixas with 90% of grape production. And what fantastically fresh, acidic, and minerally driven wines they represent. At a recent Tastemakers Table tasting of Rias Baixas Albarino held at the Succotash Restaurant in National Harbor Maryland, Mark Oldman, author of How to Drink Like a Billionaire!, stressed the reliability and authenticity of these wines and is his number one alternative to Chardonnay.


    The DO Rías Baixas 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.

    And I'm started to prefer wines from this last region: O Rosal. Their wine contain similar levels of acidity as their brethren but seem to have an enhanced salinity beyond that generated by the granite soils as well as a more rounded profile and floral notes. This preference may have risen from the two O Rosal wines at the Tastemakers Table session which were blends and not 100% Albarino.  The 2015 Santiago Ruiz ($20) for instance is a blend of Albarino, Loueiro, Treixadura, Godello, and Caino Blanco - all indigenous grapes to the region. And the 2015 Terras Gauda ($24), which was my overall favorite, is a blend of Albarino, Caino Blanco, and Loueiro. 

    There were also a few 100% Albarino at the tasting that impressed our group. The 2015 Pazo De Señoráns ($21) is highly recommended. The winery is is located in the Salnés Valley and is fresh citrus and saline with abundant acids. Also from that region, the 2015 Martín Códax ($15) 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. Finally, the 2016 Bodegas As Laxas ($20) hits all the notes from their Condado do Tea grapes: heavy peach fruit, high acids, and plenty of minerality. Nicely done.
  • The Mullan Road Cellars 2014 Columbia Valley Red -- Men From The Boys

    Posted: 2017-03-13 21:31
    Recently I received a sample of the Mullan Road Cellars 2014 Columbia Valley Red ($40), a collaboration between Dennis Cakebread (yes, the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing of Cakebread Cellars) and winemaker Aryn Morell.  Evidently Dennis Cakebread was drawn to the high quality wine produced in Washington's Walla Walla Valley and wanted to be part of that wine community. This wine is a Bordeaux styled blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Malbec sourced from three separate vineyards: Seven Hills Vineyard, Lawrence Vineyard, and Stillwater Creek Vineyard.

    And the winery's name arises from an interesting historical fact related to the area. Lieutenant John Mullan was "an American soldier, explorer, civil servant, and road builder". In the mid 1800s he explored western Montana and Idaho, discovered the Mullan Pass over the Continental Divide, and "led the construction crew which built the Mullan Road -- the first wagon road to cross the Rocky Mountains to the inland of the Pacific Northwest. Mullan's engineering and surveying was so efficient that modern-day Interstate 15 and Interstate 90 follow the route rather precisely through present-day Montana, Idaho, and Washington. And as a result of the Mullan Road, by 1870, Walla Walla had become the largest town in Washington Territory with a population of 1,394.

    While sipping the wine I was reminded of a new song by Phoebe Legere, Men From The Boys, from her Heart of Love release. Like John Mullan, the Mullan Road Cellars 2014 Columbia Valley Red has the "real stuff" - it's sturdy, firm, and will stand out without being overbearing.  There's plenty of dark dried fruit and dust, sturdy tannins, and a long smooth finish -- all which "separates the men from the boys" - or in this case separates this wine among among many others. While the Mullan Road Columbia Valley Red lures you in with it's manliness,  Legere entices with her sexy vocals. And cheers to "guts and hearts".
  • Is the Public Ready for Canned Wine?

    Posted: 2017-03-07 07:56
    During last week's U.S. Wine & Beverage Industry Expo (USBevX), wine packaged in cans was noticeably present at the event's trade show. The benefits of can packaging are significant: lower production and transportation costs, protection from light, and increased consumer flexibility. All reasons which help explain why canned beer is becoming the industry standard in the craft beer world.  But will that standard translate to the wine industry or will it remain somewhat of a gimmick?

    It all depends on consumer preferences. On one hand there is evidence that consumers will accept alternative packages and closures. As stated above canned craft beer is a viable option among beer consumers and wine consumers have eagerly accepted the screw-cap closures. According to this Freedonia study, wine consumers are also seeking more flexibility in single serving options and alternative packing.  And the canning industry is adding additional flexibility by developing a resealable can for containers larger than single servings.

    But will will this translate into greater market share?  The percentage of  boxed wine in the marketplace is growing, but it's overall volume is still minuscule as compared to bottled wine.  Although I wish them well, I believe canned wine (like box wine) will be hampered by the perception of quality. Or lack thereof. Yes, there are examples of tasty wines within each category - but the overall consumer impression is negative. And that will most likely not change based on the wines I sampled at USBevX.

    Starting with the positive, the two rosé wines -- RUZA Lodi Rosé and Underwood Oregon Rosé -- were tasty, although the Underwood seemed somewhat extracted. And the Francis Coppola Winery SOFIA Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine is a very nice option. This 70% Pinot Blanc, 15% Riesling, 15% Muscat blend receives it's carbonation using the Charmat tank fermentation method.  Plus a straw is included so the ladies won't lose any lipstick.

    That being said, when possible, please pour canned wine into a glass. Not only will you be better able to appreciate well made wine, you will be in a better position to identify flawed wine. That's exactly what happened while sampling the Backpack Snappy White. From the can it was okay, but pouring into the glass allowed us to identify multiple flaws starting with a pungent aroma that the can had suppressed. Another disappointment was The Infinite Monkey Theorem Red Wine. While I'm a fan of their Colorado made wines, I couldn't get past the light carbonation in this California sourced wine. Is the carbonation necessary?  And the final red wine (that I can't recall it's name) was so flabby and nondescript that we had to liven it with Oak Wise liquid oak. It transformed into a tasteful wine after that.

    Thus be careful when choosing your canned wine. Many outlets allow you to purchase in singles so experiment to find the quality offerings. Cheers.
  • Standing Solo with Noam Pikelny's Universal Favorite and the Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay

    Posted: 2017-03-03 15:25
    Today (March 3rd) Grammy nominated banjoist Noam Pikelny newest solo album, Universal Favorite dropped. Released by Rounder Records, this is not your typical solo effort - in fact, that's exactly what it is - just Pikelny and his banjo. No supporting cast; and this simplicity creates a fantastic album. My favorite track is his interpretation of the Josh Ritter <-> <->Mississippi John Hurt Folk Bloodbath. Pikelny's soft vocals and picking provide a heartfelt rendition of the Ritter's popular song. His deadpan baritone vocals on Old Banjo, My Tears Don't Show, and Sweet Sunny South glide the lyrics in accompany with the banjo's melody.  What took him so long to step in front of the mic?  The instrumentals are classic Pikelny showing a range of sound coaxed from his banjo. Never a dull moment. You can listen to these songs right now as they are streaming at Garden and Gun Magazine.

    And grab a bottle of the 2015 Wente Vineyards Morning Fog Estate Chardonnay ($15) before listening. This wine's simple, yet classic flavor, mimics Universal Favorite. It was also one of my favorites during the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association excursion at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference, where it was served at the dinner with 5th generation winemaker Karl Wente at Concannon Vineyard. The wine is named for the "morning coastal fog pushed by Pacific wind streams into the bowl of the San Francisco Bay and lured inland by Livermore Valley’s unique East-West orientation".  This daily condition helps add freshness and acidity to the wine, while the soils and clonal variants add minerality, and the wine making process - creamy texture. Like the album this wine starts simply, but the underlying acids, texture, and minerals provides elements that are normally not present at this price. Well done.

    For those in the DC area Pikelny is scheduled for Wolf Trap on March 29th (solo, not with the Punch Brothers). Too bad its not at the Filene Center, then I'd bring a bottle or two of the Morning Fog. Cheers.

Featured Visit

New York City Wine & Food Festival; New York City, New York - Saturday, October 11, 2008
This past weekend we attend two days of the New York City Food & Wine Festival, a northern replica of the popular Food Network South Beach Food & Wine Festival. This festival ran from October 9th through 12th – four days of wine, spirits, and food demonstrations. Most of the events occurred in the modernized Meatpacking neighborhood in Chelsea – a district of outdoor cafes – resembling European urban areas. There were food parties, regional wine tasting, seminars, Champaign parties, and the ShopRite grand tasting.

As usual for a Food Network event, several of their personalities were present, and on the 11th we stumbled upon our personal favorite Alton Brown - partnered with Rachel Ray – imparting food advice throughout the day at the Comix Kidz Korner series. As the pictures attest, kids and parents lined up early to see one of the four sold out shows. In a neighboring park we also visited a local farmer’s market sponsored by Greenmarket , where the fresh produce was shipped from Geneva – in the Finger Lakes. We sampled several of their inexpensive juices and were glad to see that they also carried Anthony Road wines. Today they were also giving food demonstrations – and advertising a charity dinner at the end of the month: The Taste of Greenmarket n the October 29th. In route to the grand tasting we also passed the Food Bloggers station – a nice courtesy to the online community.

The ShopRite Grand Tasting is a collection of food created from the city’s best chefs and wines and spirits distributed by Southern Wine & Spirits of New York. Maybe it was the sight of the Wines of Puerto Rico when we entered the Pier or the Maker Mark’s station at the entrance of the tent; but we decided to stick to spirits for the entire day. And what a spectacular array of spirits. It started with an excellent Serrallés Don Q Grand Anejo rum paired with steamed yucca on plantain leaves prepared by Hilton Caribe San Juan Lemongrass chef Mario Pagán. Accompanied by bartenders dancing to Latin music – we had a second sifter and a cocktail. The party had started.

The bartenders at Maker’s Mark were creating several cocktails from traditional Maker’s mark bourbon, the new r(i)1 rye whiskey, rum, and tequila. The Highland Nector was very popular – for me – the Bourbon County Crisp. Later in the day we had a chance to sample the r(i)1, which is being targeted by Beam Global Spirits and Wines to younger consumers. It’s a good product – slightly sweet and spicy – that we’d be happy sipping neat – but it was really good in the NYC r(i)1 Sour. We soon had a chance to taste our favorite vodka of the day – and there were several good products from Russia and Sweden. But the Norwegian Christiania vodka was what they advertised: “The World’s Smoothest Vodka” – at least today in New York. The vodka is made from organic Trondelag potatoes and Norwegian water vodka and the mixture is distilled six times before being charcoal filtered. All based on a 400 year old secret recipe originating in the court of Christian IV. Monarchs had the best life. Why did we like it? It is slightly sweet – and incredibly smooth: no burn at the finish. This is vodka worthy of a sifter. The same is true for the Whitley Neill Gin. Normally not fans of gin, this version is very appealing. It is a made with nine botanicals – including fruit from the Baobab tree (“The Tree of Life”) and Cape gooseberries. Johnny Neill has combined his family’s love for Africa with London Dry Gin to create a gin we can enjoy – more citrus than juniper. In fact the Baobab fruit has 6 times the vitamin C than an orange.

Close by, we found several of our favorite spirits from South Beach: Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva 12 year old, Vizcaya VXOP Cask 21, and Moleca Cachaça. The first is Venezuelan rum distilled in copper pot stills, then aged 12 years in oak. It is sweet with nutty and vanilla flavors – and smoooooth. The Vizcaya VXOP Cask 21 is also smooth – but really different from the Diplomatico. First, it is made from distilled pressed sugar cane – not molasses – which gives it a lighter flavor – or should I say - less nutty. It has some vanilla – but more of a honey flavor – with some butterscotch. Another great rum. Finally, the Moleca Cachaça brought back memories of mohitos and caipirinha. Both Silver and Gold are double distilled – producing a smooth spirit – with little burn. Half of our team enjoyed the Silver in cocktails, while the other half preferred the Gold in a sifter. Either way – Cachaça is a coming attraction and there was a larger selection at this tasting. Cabana Cachaça and Sagatiba Pura Cachaça are also double distilled and are each good representations of the product.

At this point, the day became a constant stream of unique new products – starting with Danny DeVito's Premium Limoncello. In South Beach, we had seen Mr. DeVito pouring his liqueur, but the crowds were too large to circumvent. Absent Mr. DeVito, the crowds today were smaller and we were finally able to try this liqueur. Many of our Italian friends have mentioned sipping Limoncello on lazy afternoons, but we had never tasted it. Now, we are “experts”. Limoncello is made by soaking the outer yellow layer of the lemon (the zest) in water and sugar, than combing with neutral grain spirits. The final product is diluted to about 60 proof. DeVito's Premium Limoncello differs from the standard by using organic Sorrento Lemons – known for their aromatics and flavors. In fact this product is the only Limoncello to earn an IGP (Protected Geographic Indication) Designation and is certified kosher. Plus, the bottle includes a "scratch and sniff" lemon. They’ve thought of everything. The liqueur is all lemon – in the aroma, through the flavor – to the tail. It is a little syrupy – but not sugary gritty. Some tasted a little mint, others pepper. Regardless, we all enjoyed it. Harbew Imports recommended several alternatives to drinking it neat – including creating a spritzer using soda water or mixing with sparkling Presecco. (We would spend the second day sampling this Italian grape to find a worthy partner to DeVito's Premium Limoncello.)

Moving on, we came upon the world’s only distiller of açaí - VeeV Açaí Spirit. The spirit is actually distilled in Idaho – using water from the Snake River and the Brazilian “super” fruit: Açaí. The fruit is well known in health food stores because it contains 57% more antioxidants than blueberries and has 30 times more heart-healthy anthocyanins than red wine. VeeV Spirits dilutes 90 proof neutral grain spirits with açaí juice, small quantities of prickly pear and acerola cherry juice, and water to arrive at the final 60 proof product. The cherry is the most pronounced ingredient – but the entire spirit is very smooth neat. However, the Reum brothers are counting on it to become an alternative to vodka in cocktails. We think it would be an interesting alternative to rum in a mohito.

While tasting the VeeV Açaí Spirit we affably heckled a fellow taster “guzzling” Lucid Absinthe at the adjacent table. Little did we know that this was actually David Jones the CEO of

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