Sunday, July 08, 2018

Fiore Sangiovese 2010 - Mi Complimenti! (MD)

Mike Firoe is that odd duck - a former young turk now a brash lion in winter. Many of the men and women who forged their way through Maryland wine like Phillip Wagner and Hamilton "Ham" Mowbray when he was the young turk are gone. And a new scene has developed. A whole new generation of winemakers with new visions for Maryland wine.

Mike did not stand still. He continued making good wines, and forged a whole new life as a distiller, helping to lead the way as a real master distiller. With his grandson he has created a new identity for the business, making incredible aged grappa, lemincello, moonshine, and AUTHENTIC Maryland Rye!

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But old lions do not go down without a fight, and Mike is just as good for a loud belly laugh and a good fight as he ever was, even if he might be slowing down.When I arrived on the local wine scene, Mike was free with advice, stories, a joke, or an argument. And he was always happy to share his knowledge with anyone. Loudly. He was a ubiquitous presence at the various winery summits. Always holding court. Always chatting.

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Mike received the lifetime achievement award at the 
Eastern Wineries Exposition 2015 in Syracuse, NY.

Recently, I pulled a bottle of his Fiore Sangiovese 2010 from the cellar and gave it a drink. Sangiovese, loosely translated, means the "blood of Jupiter." I cursed the moment I opened the bottle. It was still as fresh as the day he put it in the bottle. I could easily have let it go another five years!

Big ripe strawberry and bright cherry exploded off the nose and carried over to the palate. Earthy aromas and a hint of toast and vanilla also came through. It still had a decent amount of acidity, and the fruit lingered for a long, long time.

As was appropriate, we drank the wine while eating a little aged Parmesan and a crusty Italian bread.

I haven't talked with my friend in person in a while, but his loud, booming voice came through loud and clear in his wine, and I smiled when I thought of him!

Hey, Mike, Mi complimenti! Siamo Molto Contento!

Throwback Brewery - A Fun Visit! (NH)

A month or so back I went with friend Rich Srsich and David Lee to Throwback Brewery in New Hampshire. It was a fun visit. In July of 2011, Annette Lee & Nicole Carrier started selling beer in a small warehouse space on the seacoast of NH. Their goal was to acquire 100% of their ingredients for the beer (such as hops, wheat, barley, fruit, and spices) from within 200 miles of the brewery. Currently, they are about 70% to 99% of the way there (depending on the beer).

According to them, "Many breweries in the pre-prohibition era sourced their raw ingredients locally and then processed them before brewing. To that end, our brewery is really a throwback to the past. We strive to make small batches of high quality, artisanal beer from the freshest of local ingredients, with the intent that these beers be enjoyed by our surrounding communities."

The brewery is located at Hobbs Farm, a 12 acre working farm in North Hampton, NH. Their farmstead is from the 1860s and used to be a sheep farm. Since buying the property in 2012, they’ve raised goats, pigs, donkeys, and heirloom chickens. They also care for their hop yard and small orchard. 

They have a wide variety of beers on tap! My favorite was the Berliner Wiess. I had it sans syrup, but you can get three or four different syrups to pour into it to make it extra fun! My friends were incredibly thrilled with their beers as well! A great time, excellent food, and terrific beer! Loved it!

They have an excellent menu and the food was incredible. Amazing!

Black Dirt Rye and Single Barrel Bourbon Delicious! (NY)

I have long been a fan of Warwick Valley Winery and Black Dirt Distillery. Their latest releases from this spring, where I tasted them at the New York Botanical Gardens for the Daffodils and Wine festival in April were fantastic. I especially loved the Black Dirt Rye. Black Dirt Rye is a Pennsylvania or Monongahela rye, meaning it is a high-rye styled spirit. It is distilled from 100% NY rye grown in upstate New York.  The mash bill consists of 90% Rye and 10% malted rye. It is bottled at 50% ABV/100 Proof. Batch #1 was released on April 4, 2018. It was aged for 3 and a half years in new American charred oak (level 3). It is a lovely dark amber color, and offers notes of  caramel, ginger spice with a cocoa and malt finish. An exceptional rye!

Barrel Number: 66-14 was aged for almost three years in new charred American Oak (Char level 3) and distilled with a mash bill of 80% Black Dirt grown corn, 10% Malted Barley, 10% Rye. A big nose of cereal (think Captain Crunch and Corn Flakes) is accompanied by honey, caramel, and brown sugar. This drinks super smooth, with just a hint of black pepper and ginger snap at the end, and a wisp of vanilla. A lovely, lovely sipping bourbon!

Two more great whiskies from Black Dirt, who continues to be among the leaders of east coast distilling.

Union Grove Releases First Whiskey - Drie Brook Rye - Lovely! (NY)

Union Grove, a well accomplished local distilled announced just the other day: "The wait is over. Friday July 6th at 12 noon when we open the doors for the day you will be able to purchase our first batch of Rye whiskey. This is the first offering of any kind of Whiskey at Union Grove. We will have 750ml and 375ml available in limited quantities. When this first batch is gone it will be almost a full years wait for batch #2."

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According to the distillery, "Owners Brian Mulder of Roxbury and Todd Pascarella of Fleischmanns along with the encouragement and support of their wives, Penny Mulder a full time nurse and Jeanine Pascarella a full time mom to Max and Amelia, decided to change careers from construction and spray foam and cellulose insulation to distilling.  Both having extensive experience and knowledge in construction, building science, and the insulation retrofitting of old homes."

Union Grove, a family run distillery, has been in operation since February 2016. Up 'til now, they have been primarily known for their award winning Vly Creek Vodka made from NY apples and wheat ( they also produce a vodka made from pure Tree Juice maple syrup which is made about 6 miles from the distillery). The first batch of 500 bushels of NY apples was pressed locally and the Hubbell Family farm on an antique cider press that has been in service since the 1800’s.  They also make a rum-styled product from maple syrup as well. I like their vodka, very, very much! A great cocktail blender or great on the rocks.

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Now comes their new rye just released last week. Drie Brook Rye (pronounced Dry Brook Rye) is named as such because the word Drie is the Dutch word for "three." Three streams come together into one near the Union Grove distillery. The Dutch settlers called it Drie Brook which over time became Dry Brook. This first bottling is ten barrels at 15 gallons each for a total of 150 gallons of Drie Brook Rye Whiskey that was aged for about 12 to 14 months in new charred oak barrels made at Adirondack Barrel. This first big batch of rye whisky was made possible by the distillery's supporters and fans who are now referred to as "Barrel Captains" at the distillery. 

I was lucky enough to be in Roxbury, New York this last weekend, where I was able to sample the new elixir not more than half a dozen miles from the distillery. It was the new release day. This is a lovely dram with all the notes you expect from a rye whiskey. Big spice on the nose accompanied by caramel, brown sugar, and black pepper, followed by a lovely smooth mouthful of cereal and caramel and brown sugar, followed by vanilla, and a shock of gingersnap. Goes down smooth. Very, very lovely!

Great job folks!!!  

Friday, July 06, 2018

Fjord Vineyards Shines Bright in the Hudson Valley (NY)

Flanked by Storm King Mountain to the west and Mt. Beacon to the east the Hudson River flows through one of the oldest Fjords in North America. Acting as a gateway to the Hudson Highlands, this geological wonder helps create the unique micro climate that allows us to grow high quality wines here in the valley.  Founded in 2013 by Matthew Spaccarelli and  Casey Erdmann, Fjord Vineyards strives to craft wines that reflect where they are grown.  For the better part of a decade, Matthew has been sustainably growing world class wines here in his native Hudson Valley. He's been making great wines for Benmarl Vineyards, and he's now making stellar wines at Fjord. Those of us lucky enough to have been here a while, have seen him jump in a decade from an apprentice to an innovator. His techniques and wines are daring and impressive. He has become a true artisan...and a leader. Casey compliments Matthew as his sounding board and his amplifier. She is the fresh face of the vineyard, in touch with the social media zeitgeist.  

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Casey and Matthew are friends, and they have made their home here in the valley, with their young family. They are drawing a whole new generation of young wine fans who are flocking to them, and well they should. They are what the valley needs, they are what the valley should become. Lifestyle, energetic, involved. A family endeavor. 

I recently tried a whole bunch of Fjord wines while at the New York Botanical Garden Wine and Daffodil event this past spring. The first wine I tried was the Sauvignon Blanc 2016 sourced from the South Fork of Long Island. The wine was aromatic, crisp, with big bunches of lemon, lime, and grapefruit. A wallop of a wine - lean, light, elegant, crisp. Excellent.

This Dry Reisling 2014 was sourced from Seneca Lake fruit in the Finger Lakes. A tropical fruit bomb on the nose, it exploded with exotic aromas, as well as a pop of green apple on the tongue and a bright, zesty finish on the back of the palate.

The Fjord Chardonnay 2014 Hudson River Region was among my favorites. It was aged 8 months on the lees. A lovely blend of green and red apples, and fresh pear, the wine is light and lively, but has just enough cream and vanilla on the finish to impress even the most jaded chardonnay drinker. Exceptional!

The Fjord Cabernet Franc 2014 Hudson River Region was also impressive! Perhaps the most impressive. The wine was fermented on the skins for 21 days, and the wines aged in two-year old French oak for 14 months. This rounded off the wine, without overwhelming it it with new oak, allowing the fruit to show through. The nose vibrates with cherry, blackberry, dark raspberry, and violets resonating out the the glass. Those flavors come across as well, with hints of spice, graphite, and vanilla all blending seamlessly. A wonderful dry finish. An impressive, impressive achievement.

Fjord is one to watch!

Bashakill Vineyards Continues to Impress! (NY)

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I would hate to see what Paul Denino could do with some big money behind him. Because I will tell you this. He's one of the most talented boutique winemakers on the east coast. Always evolving, both as a winemaker and as a winery owner. Inventive. Driven. Fascinating to watch.

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Recently I got a chance to taste three new wines of his while I was down at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx for their wine and daffodil event.

The first wine was Bashakill Wood Duck Chardonnay. This lovely, light chardonnay is half aged in American Oak. The resulting wine explodes with fresh green and red apples, and lovely tropical notes, which dissolve into creamy vanilla, lemon zest, and toast. A absolutely lovely wine!

The second wine I tried was even better and easily my favorite! Paul has long made his estate cayuga named White Tail. But this new re-imaging of the wine was breathtaking on two levels. Firstly, he doesn't bottle the wine - he fills it like growlers. I couldn't buy a bottle, they told me, But I could buy a growler! I wanted it it as soon as they told me that. Brilliant! Secondly, he's infused one of his most popular wines with lavender! The Bashakill  Lavendar White Tail is the estate wine infused with locally grown organic lavender. Green apple, peach, and other stone fruits are wafted over with the lightest hint of lavendar. Instead of being over whelming, and making the wine smell like a bar of soap (as clumsier hands might have done), the wine is fragrant and breathtaking!!!!

Last but not least was Bashakill Blue Heron. This red wine gem was impressive. I love Chancellor. This deep red wine is made with Chancellor, and aged for a year and a half in French oak. This was a stellar red wine perfect for dinner. Lovely.

Paul and Bashakill continue to impress!

Mad River Bourbon - Mad Delicious! (VT)

Mad River Distilling is fast becomng one of my favorite producers. Most recently I bought a bottle of their Bourbon, and it went faster than any other bottle I have bought. I bought it in the New Hampshire state liquor store that on 95 on my way to Maine, and shared it with some friends in Maine, and then brought the rest back to New York to share there. I was like the Johnny Appleseed of Vermont bourbon.

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According to the website, "In 2011, Maura Connolly was contemplating planting a vineyard on the farm. Vermont is an unforgiving climate for grapes and her friends suggested that it would be better to produce something from more indigenous fruit. Maura’s husband John is a life-long fan of apple brandy and he was intrigued enough to start researching its production. The couple’s friend Brett Little shared John’s appreciation for brandy, and he immediately partnered with them and the idea of starting a distillery at Cold Spring Farm was born.

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The Warren property dates from the mid-1800s and was converted into a horse farm in the mid-1900’s. Alex Hilton, a Warren native, renovated the dilapidated old horse barn into a state-of- the-art craft distillery in 2011. Along the way, he became interested enough in the project to sign on as the General Manager of Mad River Distillers"

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They produced their first rum in 2013, and their flagship product Mad River Malvados, our flagship “Wicked Vermont Apple Brandy" a few years later. In 2015 Mimi Buttenheim was brought in as President of the company. In addition to taking a tour of the Warren distillery, they added a tasting room in Burlington. And now Mad River has taken off!

Which brings us back to Mad River Bourbon. This is a four grain bourbon, made with local, non-GMO corn, wheat, oats, and malted barley. The final bottling usually has whiskey aged at least one year, though some barrels in each bottling might be somewhat older. It is a mad ripe bourbon! Big nose of caramel, brown sugar, and cereal, gives way to spice and vanilla, and finishes smooth as silk. An absolutely fantastic spirit! Everyone I poured it for absolutely asked for seconds almost immediately. Amazing stuff from Mad River!


Three Great New Meads from Heldberg Meadworks!! (NY)

Helderberg Meadworks is among some of the best mead the east coast has to offer. For a long time, the owners, Peter and Kristen Voelker have made almost solely classic styled, traditional meads. And they've done a great job of it. But at the Hudson Berkshire Wine & Food Festival, they premiered three new meads that were one each better than the last.

Easily my favorite was the Helderberg Black Currant mead.This is a light and crisp mead made with local raw honey and New York state black currants. This semi-dry mead had touches of Riesling to it, with a lovely rush of currant, adding a crisp zesty ending to the enterprise. Light and delicate, and semi-sweet, it was absolutely fantastic!

Helderberg Cherry Vanilla is the meadery's first true dessert elixir. This mead has been aged for three years (with real vanilla beans) and it exudes classic honey aromas but with added layers of vanilla and cherry. Absolutely lovely.

As much as I loved the black currant the Helderberg Staghorn Mead was the biggest shocker. Helderberg calls it, "the ultimate locavore mead. It is made from local raw honey and local wild harvested staghorn sumac." What happens here is nothing short of amazing. The sumac gives the mead a crisp, lemon-like touch! Basically this tastes like sipping a very pretty white table wine blend. Fresh, easy to drink, perfect for salads, soups, chicken. An absolutely astonishing mead - but tell your friends its wine, they won't now the difference. Fantastic!

Congrats to Peter and Kristen! Amazing stuff!

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Onabay Cabernet Franc 2014 Beautiful (NY)

For whatever reason, I don't get to drink Onabay wines all that often. But I have also never been disappointed.

Onabay Vineyards is now more than 20 years old, is part of a larger, historic farm owned by the Anderson family. The total farm is more than 180 acres. Nineteen of their acres are dedicated to growing the Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Chardonnay grapes. Onabay combines original plantings from the 1990s with more recent high density plantings.

Two generations of Andersons are now involved in artisanal winemaking. Brad Anderson is leads a talented team, including vintner Bruce Schneider, winemaker/grape grower John Leo, and viticulturalist, Bill Ackermann. Francesca Anderson, renowned botanical artist, created the drawings of herons that make the Onabay labels so distinctive. Daughter, Mia C. Anderson's poems also grace the labels. Chiara Anderson Edmands oversees the marketing of Onabay Vineyards.

Onabay Cabernet Franc Cot-Fermented 2014 is made from 84% cabernet franc and 16% malbec. More than 400 cases were made. The Cab Franc and Malbec were harvested on the same day, and co-fermented. The wine then went through a malo-lactic conversion in barrel the wine aged for fifteen months in seasoned French oak.

Wine Advocate rated it 89 Points, adding, "In its youth, this is a young Cab Franc that is tight and a little tense just now. With air, the tannins increase in strength. The high acidity provides some silkiness in texture and the finish is rather gripping between the tannins and acidity. It is not a particularly deep Cab Franc, its power winning out over the fruit to a considerable extent, but in its youth it is adequate at its price range. There is fruit there and the juicy finish makes it flavorful, although it is very dry. The finish shows some complexity of flavor, too, laced with a little black olive and beef. This is a good competitor to the 2013 (not that I have them side-by-side) and a bargain-priced offering, but you will have to like acidity and cooler-climate wines. It grew on me slowly, but I came to like it a lot. It will be interesting to see how it develops with a little cellaring--or, if it does. It is worth leaning up on this right now, though. It is impressive on many fronts if it is in your style."

I agree completely. This wine grew on me as I sipped my glass. Bu the time the glass was finished, I missed the wine. Beautiful fruit, with cherry and dark raspberry and cassis, a beautiful, beautiful wine.

Finca Wolffer Rose' Wine 2017 - Simply Gorgeous! (NY)

Normally I dont review East Coast wines made with non-east coast grapes on this blog. But I am making an exception. I tried the Finca Wölffer Rosé 2017 Rosé Table Wine and loved it.

It is their fall rosé introduction,  made from hand-harvested grapes sourced from their 85 hectare Argentine Estate. It is a blend of 41% Malbec, 17% Pinot Noir, 17% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Sauvignon Blanc, 3% Torrontes, 3% Chardonnay, 3% Bonardo, and 1% Chenin Blanc.

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Roman Roth has made yet another stunning wine. Crisp, elegant, and vibrant explodes with notes of oranges and lemons and lime, with notes of strawberry and bright sour cherry, hints of peach and nectarine. Each sip brings out new complexities. New layers.It is much much more than just annother summer rose. It is simply gorgeous.