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  • Grape Spotlight: Salento IGT Torcicoda Primitivo

    Posted: 2021-06-19 06:51
    "When I came to America in August 1958, I saw vineyards around Chateau Souverain and I was interested to know which grapes were grown there. They told me Cabernet Franc from France and Zinfandel, but no-one knows where those grapes came from.  .... These Zinfandel grapes reminded me of the Plavic Mali grapes from my homeland in Croatia. ... I contacted Dr. Carole Meredith to tell her that I believed Zinfandel, Italian Primitivo, and Croatian Plavic Mali were the same grape. "  Miljenko "Mike" Grgich addressing the First International Conference on the Tribidrag Variety

    Grgich's instincts were close. American Zinfandel, Italian Primitivo, and Croatian Crljenak Kastelanski aka Tribidrag (a parent of Plavic Mali) are genetically identical. See Grape Spotlight: Croatian Tribidrag (Crljenak Kaštelanski, Pribidrag, Kratošija) aka Zinfandel for more more detailed information. 

    This variety was introduced in Apulia at the end of the 1700s with the name “Primativo” by a priest named Francesco Indellicati. He selected this grape variety because it was the earliest to ripen. It then spread throughout southern Apulia thanks to the dedication and hard work of the Benedictine monks. 

    Primitivo is a dark-skinned, early ripening grape known for producing inky, tannic wines. The grape arrived in Puglia obviously from coastal Croatia and thrives in the Salento IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) -- a regulation that covers the Salento, the limestone-based peninsula that divides the Adriatic Sea from the Ionian Sea and forms Italy's heel.  The Salento peninsula enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and long, hot, dry summers favored by its geographical location and direct contact with the Adriatic Sea. 

    According to, "the Salento encompasses Puglia's three southernmost provinces, Taranto (also covered by the Tarantino IGT title), Brindisi and Lecce. Thus, the viticultural area covered by the Salento IGT title stretches 180 kilometers (100 miles) north to south. It runs from the white beaches of Leuca, past the port town of Taranto, past the Gravina di Laterza canyon, and right up to the border with Basilicata.

    Salento IGT Rosso, Rosato, and Bianco blends may contain any proportion of any varieties permitted within the growing zone. Varietal wines must contain at least 85 percent of the variety on the label. Dual-variety wines must contain 50-85 percent of the first variety and 15-50 percent of the second. The same rules apply to passito rosso or bianco, late-harvest wines, and spumante bianco and rosato".

    The regulations allow 50 grape varieties from international varieties to those associated with northern and central Italy such as Sangiovese and Montepulciano. In addition, Salento is also known for wines from full-blooded Puglian grapes such as Negroamaro, Primitivo, and Verdeca.

    Tormaresca is a producer that owns an estate in Maime, Upper Salento in the province of Brindisi. This Masseria Maìme estate extends along the Adriatic coast and covers an area of about 500 hectares, 350 of which are planted with vines and 85 with olive groves. The most prevalent grape varieties grown are a mixture of indigenous and international:  Negroamaro, Primitivo, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. And one of these releases is available through Total Wine -- the Torcicoda Primitivo Salento IGT 2016 ($23).

    The winery describes this Primitivo as having "strong ties to the rustic and rural countryside where it is produced. It was also a symbol of fertility and wealth for the local families, and in a not-too-distant past and it was even given as part of young brides’ dowries when they married. “Torcicoda” on one hand indicates an instrument that farmers once used to take care of their horses while on the other hand, it represents the coiling, luxuriant nature of the shoots and leaves of its vines, also called the vine “of three harvests” due to its abundant growth. 

    This wine is intense and luscious, a red wine for these June nights which are dipping into the 50s.  Spices integrate with chocolate, tobacco, and dark fruit from start to finish. Expect texture and approachable tannins followed by rising acidity the keeps the finish active. Excellent.

  • Virginia Distillery Company's VHW and Courage & Conviction Through a Life of Miniatures

    Posted: 2021-06-18 06:49
    The Virginia Distillery Company has a couple of enticing series of whiskeys available with the first branded Courage & Conviction; their American Single Malt whisky finished in various used casks. The whisky is made using malted barley and fresh spring water fed from the Blue Ridge Mountains with the mash distilled using hand-hammered copper pot stills crafted in Scotland. The second series is branded Virginia-Highland Whiskey which blends their Virginia-made American Single Malt whisky with aged Scotch malt whisky and then aging in various used casks. The American Single Malt whisky is the base for the Courage & Conviction line.  The Scotch malt whisky comes from a stock they purchased many years ago when building out their distillery and needing a product to release.   And even more enticing is their release of miniatures allowing consumers to taste the series without spending the $70-80 per bottle. 

    According to the distillery, "the whiskies of Courage & Conviction, developed under the tutelage of Dr. Jim Swan, feature three core cask types:

    • Bourbon casks: These barrels formerly held Kentucky bourbon from well-known distilleries. Aging in American oak bourbon casks add notes of vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, oak, smoke and cinnamon. 

    • Sherry casks:  The distillery uses Sherry cask types, including Fino, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez. These casks give the whisky notes of tart cherry, golden raisin, fig, caramelized plum, brown sugar and spice. 

    • Cuvée casks:  This innovative barrel is sourced from premium European red wine producers. After the wine is removed, the cask is broken down, the interior shaved, re-toasted and re-charred, and then put back together again. The re-toasting and re-charring of the cask energize the wood sugars and brings forward barrel spice, bright red fruit and toasted pecan.

    The flagship Courage & Conviction American Single Malt Whisky is a target recipe of 50% Bourbon Cask, 25% Sherry Cask and 25%. The base spirit definitely provides a Scottish cerealy, salty, and peaty profile. Then the fresh and dried fruit flavors surface which continue through to a lengthy low burning finish. 

    The Courage & Conviction Bourbon Cask is blunt and harsh. There's a burnt toast feel that ends with a strong coughing burn. 

    The Courage & Conviction Sherry Cask is, contrastingly, outstanding. There's a complex aroma, figs and nuts, that continue into the core where it combines with more dense fruit A bit of funk lingers with the smooth tail. This is bottle-worthy.

    The Courage & Conviction Cuvée Cask starts with red fruit on the nose which leads to cherry notes, a little chocolate, and a sweeter caramelized and less cerealy, salty, and peaty profile. Little to no burn.  This may be bottle-worthy.

    The VHW Port Cask Finished Whisky is made from the base Virginia-Highland Whiskey which is then finished in a combination of Port-style wine casks from Virginia and traditional Tawny Port casks for a minimum of 12 months. The Scotch takes primary focus but eventually yields to dried fruits (figs) and hints of coffee and cocoa. It's a pleasant sipper - even while just enjoying the aroma. 

  • Grape Spotlight: Salice Salentino Negroamaro

    Posted: 2021-06-12 07:00

    "Puglia's Salento Peninsula is arguably the source of the finest Negroamaro wines, particularly those produced under the Salice Salentino DOC title" -


    Let's discover why. It is believed that Negroamaro originated in Greece and at least 1,500 years ago migrated through the Balkins and across the Adriatic Sea. This dark-skinned grape variety found a home in Puglia's warm Mediterranean climate, particularly in Salice Salentino, where, despite being landlocked enjoys cool breezes from both the Adriatic Sea and the Gulf of Taranto. In addition, the grape's hardiness provides a drought tolerance critical in the harsh climate at Italy's lower boot.  These conditions allow Negroamaro vines to achieve optimum levels of ripeness. 

    According to, "Negroamaro is valued for its deep color, medium-full tannins, and dark berry fruit flavors. The variety can also add earthen tones that can cross over into slightly medicinal flavors. It is mildly aromatic and can produce complex wines that show characteristics of ground brown spices such as clove, cinnamon, and allspice."

    The Salice Salentino DOC was created in 1976 centered on the town of Salice and spreading out to the north and west. Initially, the regulations covered only red wines but eventually white, rosé, fortified, and sparkling wines were permitted in subsequent revisions.  The DOC favors the production of a single varietal Negroamaro (90%) but also provides for a red blend with the final wine requiring 75% Negroamaro. Vines in Salice Salentino are generally planted in deep clay-limestone soils and receive up to 300 days of sunshine each year - with many of these days exceeding 104°F.  

    You would think that these conditions would yield extremely high alcohol wines - but the Cantele Salice Salentino DOC Rosso Riserva 2015 ($12) weighs in at only 13%. The wine is enjoyable in every aspect -- and not just the price. It starts with earthy plums on the nose, then a dusty cherry and allspice interior, finishing with approachable tannins and surprisingly lifting acids. The north-south exposure obviously allows for sufficient nighttime cooling. Although this family estate winery is only 30 years old, it is operated by the third generation of Canteles and a local leader in predictive and integrated agriculture practices.  We look forward to visiting this summer to learn more about Negroamaro, Salice Salentino, Puglia, and Cantina Cantele. Cheers.

  • Grape Spotlight: Coteaux Champenois Pinot Meunier with Champagne Demière

    Posted: 2021-06-10 15:48

    Still wines in the prestigious sparkling wine region of Champagne? That is what is covered by the Coteaux Champenois appellation that shares the same geographic region as Champagne. These two regions are located at the northern latitude of 49°N which is at the northern edge of France's vineyard-growing areas and thus experience the lowest average temperatures than any other French wine region. According to, "the majority of its vineyards are planted in a temperate maritime climate with slight continental influences, particularly in the southeast. These climatic conditions, combined with the region's latitude (48 to 49 degrees north), mean that the wines produced under the Coteaux Champenois appellation are, like their sparkling counterparts, dry and light-bodied with naturally high acidity". 

    Production regulations for Coteaux Champenois allow for smaller geographical indicators on the label of Coteaux Champenois wines, all the way down to small, local (cadastral) titles. This is apparent in one of our wines today, from the "les Accaties" locality.

    Pinot Meunier is one of the seven approved grape varieties in Coteaux Champenois and basically shares the same DNA fingerprint as Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and other Pinot grapes. The word Meunier is French for "miller", and refers here to the "floury" appearance of the underside of the vines' leaves.  Generally in Coteaux Champenois, Pinot Meunier is planted in regions that are too cold for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to grow fruitfully.  In this regard, Meunier adds even more acidity and tartness to both still and sparkling wines. 

    Champagne Demière is a sparkling wine producer that also releases still wines using the Coteaux Champenois regulations. In the Hopwine program, they showcased their innovated winemaking and aging techniques utilizing traditional wooden presses, egg-shaped vats, and a "champagne-styled" solera. This third-generation family domain operates estates around the village of Fleury la Rivière at the edge of the Montagne de Reims Champagne subregion. The terroir is distinguished by clayey-sandy soils, and of course, its famed calcareous subsoils including maritime fossils dating back to the Lutecian era. 

    Champagne Demière  France - Champagne Coteaux Champenois Solera Venerable 100% Meunier
    This "Vénérable" Coteaux Champenois Blanc is the oldest wine from the estate with the solera system dating back to 1978. Each year, if the quality of the vintage allows, the solera is augmented with 20% of the wine for that vintage. The original solera was stored in a wooden vat but has hence been transferred to stainless steel.  This is a complex wine with, green apples, lemons, and peaches associating with dried nuts. There's also a distinct tartness that sizzles with the intense acidity. 

    Champagne Demière  France - Champagne Coteaux Champenois Ataraxy 100% Meunier
    This Ataraxy Rosé, Coteaux Champenois originates from old vine Meunier plots located in the Fleury-la-Rivière locality "les Accaties".  The wine is aged 10 months in oak and is bottled in its natural state (no filtering and no fining). This is a fantastic rosé, starting with a peach aroma that leads to creamy and textured raspberries with noticeable saline. It is that fresh saline that drives my desire for more of this one. 

  • Thirsty for Small-Batch & Local Spirits with the Kozuba & Sons Distillery Quince Cordial

    Posted: 2021-06-03 20:24
    Throughout the American experience, there have been hundreds - perhaps thousands - of individuals immigrating to this country who then opened a brewery, distillery, or planted vines corresponding to the practices in their home countries. But how many have literally migrated the complete operation from their home country to the United States? That's what occurred with Florida's Kozuba & Sons Distillery where Zbigniew Kozuba and his sons Matthias and Jacob moved their Polish distillery from Jablonka to St. Petersburg. 

    During the latter part of the 2000s, the Kozuba family opened the distillery in order to fulfill escalating requests for cordials that Zbigniew had starting infusing in retirement from a biochemist career. Soon they augmented their portfolio with vodka distilled from a  hybrid copper still and became the " first family-owned and operated micro-distillery in post-war Poland".   In 2012 they started distilling the first Polish single malt whiskey along with other experimental whiskeys but eventually discovered that "Poland’s highly monopolized industry did not have room for a small, family-operated craft operation". 

    They then decided to move to a country "thirsty for small-batch, local spirits" and the most logical choice was the United States and St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District. In 2014, they migrated their operation to the Sunshine State including two hybrid copper stills, both hand-made by Arnold Holstein in Germany. One still is dedicated to vodka production, and the other to whiskey production. 

    During our recent trip to the area for a brewery - baseball tour, I quickly ran into the distillery in order to purchase and bring home their Quince Cordial ($20, 32.5%  abv,  375ml). I have been a consumer of Serbian Quince brandies for a number of years and have noticed generally tropical aromas and pear flavors. Quince is a pome fruit, related to apples and pears, that when ripe is bright yellow and looks like a fuzzy, short-necked pear. As a raw fruit, it is too sour and astringent to eat so is most often used in jams, cakes, and rakija. The Kozuba & Sons Quince Cordial is made macerating whole quince fruits and then aging for several years.  No preservatives, artificial colors, or flavors are used in the production process. 

    Drinking neat, the Quince Cordial shows excellent dense fruit, both quince and fig;  but the syrupy texture begs for a cocktail. I found The Quinclet online and it packs a wallop but my favorite use was a recommendation by Keli Rivers when discussing her book, Negroni: More than 30 Classic and Modern Recipes for Italy's Iconic Cocktail. She likes to order a cider, take a large swig and then top off with Campari. I replicated with the cordial and it works by augmenting the refreshing apple flavors with denser pomme fruit. Na Zdrowie!

    The Quinclet

    The quince gives the finished article a more rounded flavor than a straight gimlet, however, the lime juice and bitters lend a pleasing bite to the finish.

    Ingredients & Equipment:

    40ml Dry Gin
    20ml Quince Cordial
    20ml Lime juice
    Liberal dash, Angostura Bitters
    Lime zest, to garnish
    Cocktail shaker
    Martini glass, chilled

    Pour a couple of drops of bitters into the martini glass.
    Give the gin, cordial, and lemon juice a jolt in a shaker with a couple of ice cubes.
    Strain into the martini glass and garnish with a strip of lime zest.
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