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  • Visiting A Couple Craft Breweries in Rockville, Maryland

    Posted: 2018-01-15 09:53
    This past September Saints Row Brewing joined 7 Locks Brewing and Gordon Biersch Brewery as the only two craft breweries in Rockville -- the third largest incorporated city in Maryland. I write only, because the area could support many more if you add surrounding areas of Germantown, Gaithersburg, and Bethesda, the I-270 Corridor comes close to Baltimore in population size. That is what Saints Row Brewing is leveraging while serving unique and delicious beer. Start with the Little L Belgium Pale Ale which nails the profile and follow with the On Baker Street English Brown Ale. I generally avoid this style as many are highly malted for my tastes. Not the On Baker Street. It finds the correct balance between toffee malt and bitters - nicely done. And for sour lovers, there should always be something funky on tap with the Sweaty Pineapple Pants Wild Pineapple Sour the current offering. The citrus is subtle but not the tartness; quite nice. The brewery is also well integrated with Untappd so you can explore current and future offerings.


    The senior 7 Locks Brewing is a happening place with a playroom, small bandstand, cornhole, and abundant other games to entertain visitors. There's also a plethora of craftbeer options from IPAs to lagers but start with the Sahti Farmhouse Ale if available. This is based on a Finnish style first brewed by peasants in the 1500s where the mashing occurred in wooden barrels which was then scooped into a hand-carved wooden trough (kuurna) with a bed of juniper twigs that acted as a filter. I also savored the Surrender Dorothy Rye Pale Ale and the Reserve Series Rye on Rye. This barrel aged beer is excellent where the whiskey notes meld with the rye flavors. You can also experiment by blending different amounts of Surrender Dorothy to the Rye on Rye. Makes for added entertain. Cheers and as always, you can find these breweries using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder.
  • When Its Cold Outside Reach for Port - Here's Two from Warre's and Graham's

    Posted: 2018-01-08 07:00
    This winter the buzzword appears to be bomb cyclone, which replaced polar vortex, which replaced Alberta Clipper, which sometime in the past replaced the simple cold front of my youth. Regardless of these marketing weather gimmicks, when its cold I reach for Port - a fortified wine produced from grapes grown and processed in the Portuguese Douro demarcation and fortified with neutral grape spirit.

    There are over a hundred sanctioned grape varieties eligible for Port, but in general, expect the use of these five: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional. There are also several categories of Port: White, Tawny, Ruby, Reserve, and Vintage. (See The Wine Coach for specifics.) Aged tawnies come in ten year increments that reflect a port house's style and not a minimum, maximum, or average age. Thus a 10-year-old or 20-year-old Tawny port is a taste that is reflected in oak aging, racking and blending. Ruby Ports are aged in large vats for two to three years before bottling whereas Vintage Ports are from a single harvest designated as an exceptional year and aged additional years in the bottle. The Reserve Port category was created by Cockburn's (founded in 1815) to bridge these two styles where the wine is aged longer in large barrique casks. The goal was to create a wine similar in quality to the Vintage Port but drinkable early like the Ruby Port.

    Warre's Warrior Port ($19). Warrior is the oldest continuously bottled Port brand (1750's) as Warrior has been branded on the casks of Warre’s finest Reserve Ports since the earliest days of the firm. The grapes are drawn from Quinta da Cavadinha and Quinta do Retiro, Warre’s best quintas in the Pinhão and Rio Torto valleys that also produce Warre’s classic Vintage Ports. The wine is fruity and chewy, lot's of texture, with another long lingering finish. Apparently the higher altitudes and cooler climate lead to this ripe fruit character. For a full bodied, yet fresh, easy drinking Port wine, start here.

    Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port ($56) is a blend from all five Graham quintas – Malvedos and Tua, Vila Velha, Lages in the Rio Torto and Vale de Malhadas in the Douro Superior. It is pure tawny in color as well as showing layers of rich dried fruit, oranges, and nut flavors. The wine finishes very smoothly with a boost from elevated acidity. This 20-year-old Tawny Port is an elegant wine - excellent for all occasions - particularly during cold winter weather. Cheers.
  • Visiting Tall Pines Distillery in Pennsylvania Ski Country

    Posted: 2018-01-05 06:00
    If you are heading to the southwestern PA ski resorts like Seven Springs Mountain Resort and Hidden Valley Resort then stop by Tall Pines Distillery - the first legal moonshine distillery in Somerset County Pennsylvania since prohibition.  You will most likely be met by Dozer, the very friendly black lab or owners Daniel Fay and Keith Welch. The distillery is located three miles north of the Mason Dixon line at 9224 Mason Dixon Highway (Route 219) in Salisbury. The operation specializes in flavored moonshine, fruit brandy, and whiskey.

    In the distillation area, the process looks as if it was run out of a barn - albeit with modern equipment - but with a thump keg (which enables a second distillation) and a worm box filled with cool water.  In general  the moonshine in sells for $34 per 750ml bottle or $18 for a 375ml bottle. The Cafe Mocha was a nice take on coffee liqueur but I opted for the Peach and Lumberjacked Apple brandies. The Peach is a little heavier than my preferred Eastern European palinka, but lighter than schnapps. Savor that peach flavor.  The Lumberjacked Apple is made from distilled apple cider and the apple flavor lives long past the slight burn. Besides neat, I envision the apple brandy mixed with hard cider and a shot of rum. Looking forward to our next ski trip and as always you can locate Tall Pines Distillery using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.
  • Remembering the 2017 Maryland Winter Wine Showcase

    Posted: 2018-01-04 15:27
    I just registered for the 2018 Winter Wine Showcase, an annual tasting at the B&O Railroad Museum where Maryland wineries feature two of their top wines. During the 2017 event I was very impressed with the quality across the board, but two Albarino wines stood out. These were the Boordy Vineyards 2016 South Mountain Vineyard Albariño ($20) and Port of Leonardtown Winery 2015 Maryland Albariño ($20). I had been saving both in order to conduct a comparative tasting with a few from Riax Baixas (Albarino's native homeland in Galacia Spain) but was instructed to open each sooner rather than later. That still is in insteresting concept considering that neither of the Maryland wines exhibit the minerally driven character associated with Riax Baixas Albarinos. Instead the Maryland wines are more stone fruit forward, with creamy depth, and finishing with plenty of acidity. Somewhat Viognier-ish. They are both delicious wines. Cheers to 2017 and best wishes for 2018.
  • New Years with Vilarnau Brut Reserva Cava

    Posted: 2018-01-04 15:15
    In 2017 Catalonia independence was a dominant topic in European news, but the province is also a notable wine region particularly with Penedes Cava. The Catalan word cava refers to "cave" or "cellar" and this sparkling wine is traditionally made using indigenous Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel·lo grapes. But regardless of the blend, all Cava D.O. wines must be made using the champenoise traditional method.

     One small Catalan producer is Vilarnau, a Cava house that has been operating just outside Barcelona since 1949. I received two samples of their Brut Reserva with both honoring the winery's Catalan roots by reflecting the imagery of Antoni Gaudi and the "Trencadís" mosaic. This technique was used in the modernist artistic movement in Catalonia, created from tiny fragments of broken ceramic tiles, roof tiles or crockery. Very impressive bottling. Cheers to 2017 & 2018, Cava, and a thriving Catalonia.

    Vilarnau Brut Reserva NV ($14.99) - a blend of 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, and 15% Xarel·lo and aged more than 15 months in bottle. A tremendous bargain with a creamy green apple and lemon flavor, tiny bubbles, and refreshing acids. Highly recommended.

    Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé NV ($15.99) - a blend of 85% Trepat and 15% Pinot Noir and also aged more than 15 months in bottle. Fruit forward profile of creamy strawberries, a little less effervescence, but noticeable acids.  Another nice value.

Featured Visit

Laurel Gray Vineyards; Hamptonville, North Carolina - Friday, April 24, 2009
During our drive down to Merlefest we visited our first Yadkin Valley winery: Laurel Gray Vineyards. The Yadkin Valley is situated between the Blue Ridge and Brushy Mountains and is slowly becoming an important wine producing area on the east coast. There are over 25 wineries in the valley with some being old tobacco farms converted to vineyards. This practice is not as common as we thought since most tobacco farmers who received settlement money, simply retired - why even think about the strenuous labor associated with growing grapes. However, one such converted tobacco farm was Laurel Gray Vineyards.

We selected Laurel Gray Vineyards simply because it was the closest to route 421. We learned that it resides in a new sub-appellation - Swan Creek Appellation along with five other wineries. The winery is owned and operated by Benny and Kim Myers, who first planted the vineyards in 2001 on the former dairy and tobacco farm. Interestingly Myers can trace his ancestors to when they arrived in the valley in 1773. That's 10 generations. The next generation also helps with the winery, and is who the winery is named after, Ashley Laurel and Taylor Gray. In fact Ashley is the resident grape expert having earned a M.S. in Plant Pathology and by working in Virginia as a Grape Pathology Extension Specialist.

Kim Myer met us in the tasting room and we learned that Laurel Gray specialized in French styled wines. To date the region does not have a clear specialty since the industry is so new. Some wineries specialize in Italian varieties, whereas the Myers believe that French varieties have the most potential - particularly Chardonnay. Their Chardonnay is fermented and aged in French oak for 12 months which provides a soft creamy texture. The wine possessed the nice chardonnay flavor with a slightly vanilla finish. We preferred their Viognier more since it was made in a more acidic style - plus it had a nice apricot flavor.

The winery makes several different red styles from dry and full bodied to a semi-dry summer red. We started with the Sultry a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is aged in three different types of oak which helps produce a slightly spicy finish. I guess the Syrah would have a hand in that as well. Their Cabernet Sauvignon is produced in the same fashion, just aged slightly longer to 18 months. We liked this more than the Sultry - it was more full bodied and just seemed to have more jolt. They also produce an Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which not surprisingly, we liked the most. The nose contained aromas of figs, the middle full bodied, while the tail was slightly tannic. A nice wine, except for the price tag. Is it worth $29? The final red wine was one of their top sellers, the Scarlet Mountain, made from traditional Bordeaux varieties. However, that's where the similarity ends. Some Chardonnay is added to the blend making this wine a little off dry - designed for summer days. We liked it and it contains the strong cherry flavors that were advertised.

The final two wines were sweet wines, starting with the Rose’ 1773, a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Syrah. It isn't really as sweet as advertised and has a nice strawberry flavor - the wine that compliments spicy foods. The final wine is made from 100% Niagara, the grape we came to like while visiting wineries when our son was an infant. He always wanted us to drink the same fruit that was in his white grape juice. In any case, the Nectar is really good - if you are like us and enjoy the fruity aroma and flavor of the grape. And it is not as concentrated as most dessert wines. Others were purchasing it rather quickly during our visit.

This was a nice spot to break our drive to Wilkesboro. We can see why the winery receives frequent visitors from Charlotte - its a nice location to hang out during the day. And since all the wines are sold strictly from the tasting room; that's the only method people have to purchase these wines. See you again before next year's Merlefest.

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