Friday, September 27, 2013

Al Cassinelli of Cassinelli Winery and Vineyards

Located on 110 acres of woods and rolling, open land, Cassinelli Winery & Vineyards is located off of Route 213 on your way to Chestertown, Maryland on the Eastern Shore. They are located at 3830 Church Hill Road in Church Hill, Maryland. The entrance to the winery is marked with flags as well as their Cassinelli Winery & Vineyards sign.
A white vinyl fence is their calling card from the road. Beyond this, they are actively planting and maintaining their vineyards including Chardonnay, Merlot, and Viognier grapes as well as hundreds of apple, peach, pear and plum trees that they hope families will soon visit to pick and enjoy. They share the productive land with several livestock including cows and buffalo. 
While still a fairly young business, Cassinelli Winery and Vineyards has already created a profound and distinguished name for itself. Founded in 1998, the business really started to take off in 2002. Now, just eight short years later, it produces an impressive assortment of wine varieties, including Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, Sangiovese, and Malbec.

For Al Cassinelli, owner and founder of the winery, an interest in harvesting and winemaking sprouts from his strong Italian background and heritage. Although Cassinelli and his wife Jennifer founded the winery, his grandfather—who immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1946—sparked his interest in the wine business.

“He had a big influence on me—on business and wine,” says Cassinelli. “I wanted to farm and be able to grow something that could be turned into a valued added product.”

With a total of 13 acres planted and 720 plants per acre, it is clear that Cassinelli will continue to expand the breadth of wine varieties and flavors available. Currently, only the mature Chardonnay and Merlot plants have been producing, but Cassinelli plans for other varieties to come on line by next year. Among the wines available at Cassinelli Winery, Cassinelli highlights the Chardonnay as his wine of choice.


“I prefer the Chardonnay. It really wants to grow here on the shore and the wine is very nice.”

While Maryland is among one of the newer states to enter the winemaking industry, Cassinelli comments that many winemakers in the area do their part to contribute to the growing industry, showing enthusiasm and interest in the success of Maryland wine.

“As a young startup industry trying to find its feet and direction, we have a lot of producers who are genuinely concerned about putting Maryland on the map with quality wines,” he comments.

Seeing as how the industry continues to thrive, the time and effort Cassinelli contributes to his winery and products is well worth the endeavor. For him, the rich and luxurious nature of the business proves to be a rewarding process.

In a profile of Al, Erik Yount wrote in Host Our Coast, "A winery isn't just a pub in a field, and visiting a winery is about more than drinking wine. It's about the process of wine-making, and the culture behind it. It's agro-tourism. You can try the wine and then go out to see the same grapes on the vine. Revealing the craftsmanship behind wine-making creates a sense of appreciation for what comes out of the bottle. Al Cassinelli is very passionate about making quality wines. He wants to see MD catch up with Virginia and Pennsylvania as a winemaking state, and quality is the secret to staying on that track. If a batch of wine didn't make it, he'll dump it, rather than sneak it along to vendors as some wine-makers might do. "

Of the medals they've already won, at a young age, Al told Patti Hamsher of, “These awards, especially the gold medal on a red wine, show that the Eastern Shore is very capable of growing high quality fruit and then turning it into a top of class wine. I know that Cascia Vineyards on Kent Island and Crow Vineyards in Kennedyville have also produced award-winning wines. This is significant because we are all working with young vines that will only get better as they mature.”

“The most rewarding aspect of owning a winery is actually working with the vineyard all year to get it to produce quality grapes, then turning them into a nice wine,” he cites. “Nothing beats walking through the vineyard with a glass of wine from the grapes that you personally grew.”

Read the other profiles:

Four Maryland Wine Festivals for Fall 2013!!!

Harvest at Swan Harbor Farm
Join Maryland wine at the inaugural Harvest at Swan Harbor Farm on October 26 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. This try and buy event features over a dozen Maryland wineries all pouring their best local wine at the picturesque Swan Harbor Farm in Havre de Grace. Craft vendors, local food vendors, local cheese vendors, live music, and children's activities - including educational farm activities sponsored by MAEF and a children's costume contest - make Harvest a family-friendly event. A general admission ticket includes seven wine samples from the wineries, and additional sample cards can be purchased online and on site. All wine is available by the bottle and case. Buy your tickets to this first-of-its kind event today, and save five dollars off the admission price. 


Farm to Chef Maryland
Farm to Chef is a local culinary competition. Thirty of the most talented Maryland chefs will be paired with thirty local farms to create innovative dishes for guests to enjoy.  Now in it's fourth year, the event raises over $25,000 for Days of Taste, a program that brings together farmers, chefs and community volunteers to introduce school children to the importance of fresh food and its journey from farm to table.
The event is on September 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Taste 30 dishes from the area's top chefs and farmers, all while sampling local beer, Maryland wine, and craft cocktails. Hand-selected judges will select their favorite dishes at the end of the night for prestigious awards. Want to know what it's like to be a food critic? Buy a ticket to be a judge and experience Farm to Chef like no one else! Judging tickets are limited. Tickets are on sale now!

Riverside Wine Fest at Sotterly
On October 5 and 6, celebrate the start of fall at the breathtaking Sotterly Plantation, a National Historic Landmark! Over 20 wineries will be in attendance serving up their best wines. Enjoy an afternoon of multiple wine tastings, live music, free mini tours of the 1703 Plantation House and Slave Cabin, artisans, demonstrations, exhibits, children’s activities, great food and more. Buy your tickets today!


Autumn Wine Festival
The Autumn Wine Festival will celebrate its 11th year this October 19-20. The festival offers the perfect opportunity to explore Maryland wine from one scenic location.  Over 20 wineries are anticipated this year, offering unlimited samplings.  Wine connoisseurs and first time samplers alike enjoy the annual festival, which also features live music, including a headlining performance by Dave Matthews Band collaborator Tim Reynolds and TR3 on Saturday.  Earlier on Saturday, festival-goers can enjoy a laid back and hilarious take on wine tasting from award-winning sommelier Laurie Forster, The Wine Coach.  Those interested in a more intimate experience can upgrade their tickets to receive the VIP treatment, which offers a covered tent close to the main stage, tastings, private guest appearance by Laurie Forster (The Wine Coach), a wine-making forum with MWA, festival t-shirt and goodie bag. Buy your tickets today!


I recently had lunch with a friend who lamented that he was making a lot of money, but wasting his life. What was he doing with his life? What am I building for my children? How am I spending my energies? Sounds like middle age, yes, but it is a question we all ask ourselves at one point or another.
 Then there’s the side of that conversation. There are some things you experience, that you realize as they are happening, that have reached a moment of perfection. That you are in the presence of professionals, yes, but also that of artisans. That the work they are perfecting transcends their industry, or their medium. To be in the presence of that kind of achievement is inspiring.

As someone who works both sides of the tastingroom bar, I am constantly looking for the cracks in the façade when I am traveling. When I am behind the bar, I have always found honesty to be the best policy. Then there’s nothing to discuss but the wine. Because if you’re excited about that you’re doing then other people will pick up that same enthusiasm. If it’s genuine, you never have to worry about it. When traveling my radar is constantly probing. At the same time, I am constantly looking for the telltale detail that can confirm my best hopes and/or worst fears. Sometimes it’s the smallest details, or the simplest things that do this for someone. And sometimes plain and simple you run into a work of art.
La Face Cachee De La Pomme makes art. The medium they work in is apples. And the art they produce is of the liquid kind. And make no mistake – they make art. And they are artisans.

I arrived there with a troupe of wine writers and bloggers. A gang of us, who were treated and feted with great care. There was no question, that one of the prerequisites of the winery is that you must be beautiful, for we saw no one who worked there that day who wasn’t fit and chic. I actually found it quite disconcerting like being in a Abercrombie & Fitch, knowing they didn’t have anything that would fit me. But we quickly got passed this.
The first experience we had was when the director of sales took us on a tour of the vineyards to explain their farming techniques. They showed us a traditional orchard, and the new orchards where they grow apples like grapes, on trellises designed for effective spraying and easy harvesting an increased production, as well as maximum sunshine.


Then we went on a tour of the facilities, and then ultimately to the tasting room.

The rooms again were incredibly stylish and impeccably decorated. In the back, there was a giant black chalkboard wall, with a diagram on it and a gorgeous rustic table with local cheeses and honey were paired with the ciders. This is where it got incredibly interesting.

There were two sparkling ciders to start off the tasting. The one that made the biggest impression on me was the La Face Cachée de la Pomme Bulle Rosé which is a pink cider made from
80% Geneva and 20% Honeygold apples. Big nose of apples and strawberries. But there’s also a touch of yeast here, like a fine sparkling. Beautiful on the palate, with nice fruit, fry and creamy (like a fine rose’), but tart with nice acidity. Great balance. A lovely, lovely wine….errr, cider! This was an exquisite cider.....funny I keep wanting to say and write wine because these ciders had the nose of cider but the finesse of wine. I keep comparing them in my mind to champagne and sparkling wines....but they are ciders. That's house good these ciders are. You put these in a pint glass and I'll come to your house and shoot you! Champagne flutes, please! 

 La Face Cachée de la Pomme Neige Bubbles is made from fresh hand-picked 100% McIntosh (apples known for their sweet and acidic taste) and Spartan (very sweet apples with a slight pear flavor) through a dosage of Neige apple ice wine. The cider is a golden yellow with light reflections. Bubbles are fine, sharp and generous. The tasting notes say, “Pure and clean, the aroma reminds fresh apple and white flower.,” and it’s absolutely true! It’s light, effervescent, and absolutely delicious! A perfect balance of sugar and acidity.

Inspired by the technique used to make ice wine and by our very particular climate, ice cider (also known as apple ice wine) was born out of the Québec terroir, which has the extreme cold winter temperatures needed to produce the concentration of sugars for its creation. La Face Cachée de la Pomme makes ice cider using two natural processes that they contributed to developed — cryoconcentration and cryoextraction. They also led the conversation as to what the definition of "ice cider" can or cannot be.

La Face Cachée de la Pomme Neige Premiere was next. Autumn harvest. Blend of McIntosh (80%) and Spartan (20%) apples. Golden yellow in color like a good dessert wine. The nose is all freshly picked ripe apples. It’s incredibly intense. Hints of pear and apricot. Sweet but with great acidity. Perfectly balanced. An excellent dessert wine....err, cider. 
But don't take my word for it, here's the quotes from a couple of other wine writers who liked Premiere:
Sweet wines just aren’t my thing, but Neige is so unexpected. Who would have thought apple ice wine could turn me on to sweet wines? Incredible fragrance from the apples combined with piercing acidity makes this so sippable and not cloying. Very good with cheddar!” - Cynthia Sin-Yi Cheng, Cravings, Dec. 12th, 2008
“Neige is pure enjoyment in a bottle.” - Jean-Louis Doucet, Les Meilleurs Vins de 10 à 30$, 2010.
“Who would have believed that one day cider could compete with grand dessert wines?” - Bruno Quenioux, Head Sommelier, Lafayette Gourmet, Paris.

This is the premiere product of La Face Cachee De La Pomme. Produced since 1994, La Face Cachee De La Pomme Neige Récolte d’hiver it is the very first ice cider (also known as apple ice wine) to be commercialized in Québec and throughout the world. Neige Récolte d’hiver – produced from a variety of apples that do not fall during the autumn season – is available in a limited edition series of 5866 bottles for the 2007 harvest. Edition 2008 is limited at 10 560 bottles.
According to the tasting notes, "Picked between December and January, while the temperature was approximately -15°C, the fruits still hanging on trees were dehydrated by the sun and literally cooked by the cold and wind. Sugars were concentrated through natural cryoextraction. Frozen apples were then pressed in order to extract the precious nectar. The extracted must was then placed in stainless steel tanks where it fermented for a period of approximately eight months, at low temperatures, before being bottled."
This is the ultimate in ice-cider. Easily the best Canada, and the world, produces. There are other good and very good ones to be sure. But this is the Cahteau Y'Quem of ice-cider. Big, rich, opulent, unctuous. Apple and pear are complimented by notes of honey, apricot and mango. This is one of the best dessert wines you will ever try! you will try anywhere time any where. 
Neige Noir is essentially a apple cider port at 20% alcohol. Dark, deep, and mysterious, it' a cousin to apple jack but much more flavorful. 60% autumn apples 40% winter apples and aged three years in oak. This is a big complex liquor. Caramelized apple, pear, fig, and candied fruit. Spice. A hint of nuttiness. A very lovely, sophisticated port-styled or sherry-style cider, meant to be drunk by the fire with a wheel of Stilton. Made in small batch, limited edition bottlings.
La Face Cachee De La Pomme should officially be named a holy place for those that make or enjoy cider. All should make a pilgrimage before declaring anything about how cider is made or how ti is revered. This is place is sophisticated for a winery, let alone a cidery. Cider has long been the province of those making a Colonial drink. And rightfully so, as it was. There are those ciders who belong with the beer crowd, and are very, very good. This is no knock on them.
 But there are those who make exquisite ciders, who elevate the tradition into an art. Farnum Hill in New Hampshire is one such a place. La Face Cachee De La Pomme is another.

And so the "framed" photo of our contingent was appropriate at the end of the day, for we had all discovered the apple, framed as art. And the living museum is La Face Cachee De La Pomme.

Fall In Love With Hudson Valley Wine 2013 Continues!!!!!! Week 4 September 27-29!!!


18 more events this weekend!!! Another series of amazing events!!! We have grape stomping at several wineries, pumpkin chucking, and much more!!! There's music, wine tastings, food, fun, and laughter!!! C'mon, Fall in Love With Hudson Valley Wine!!!

Sept 27 – Longchamp & Manza 7:00-10:00pm   PALAIA VINEYARDS

Sept 28 & 29: Harvest Celebration, Noon-5pm, Hudson-Chatham Winery

Sept 28 & 29 12-7pm Annual Harvest Grape Stomping Festival BENMARL WINERY

Sept 28 & 29 -Grape Stomp Festival ROBIBERO VINEYARDS

Sept 28 & 29 Grape Stomping BROTHERHOOD WINERY

Sept 29 & 30 Crafts at Rhinebeck Fall Festival 2013, 10am-5pm both days.  (WINE TENT)

Sept 28 & 29 Harvest Grape Stomping Festival BENMARL WINERY

Sept 28 & 29 Uncorked and Unplugged Concert Series 2 to 5 pm at WARWICK VALLEY

Sept 29 Little Sparrow Band BASHAKILL VINEYARDS

Sept 28 – PUMPKIN CHUCKING at 3pm and  The Die Hardz 7-10pm PALAIA VINEYARDS

Sept 29 – “Whitney Rose” – Doug & Ann O’Connor – 2:30-5:30pm PALAIA VINEYARDS

And of course, for more events, go to:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Road Warrior - David Pazdar of Pazdar Wines

One of the best known dessert winemakers in the Hudson Valley is David Pazdar. David is a very nice man. You have to say that when you start off writing about David. Because his small brand is so focused, and so driven to fun and excess, one needs to rein in the expectations he might otherwise be the Harlequin Romance line of wines of the Hudson Valley. His wine names would easily earn him the honor, if it was solely based on the names of his wines, with such titillating titles as Rendezvous, Hot Sin, Forbidden Nights, and Secret Lovers.

David’s winery is unique. He’s a one man show, that is if you don’t count his perky wife, his adorable daughters, and his father-in-law Tom ( a quiet, friendly sort, who is always found with the NY Post or NY Daily News in hand, following the Yankees). But seriously, David’s winery is small and focused. David excels at making popular dessert wines. Extremely adept at making Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and other well-known varietals under his “House” label, David has instead focused on a wide range of small production, high quality dessert wines. His flavor combinations are among the most unique in the American wine business. Chocolate wine, wines made with chili peppers, honey and ginger, banana, and mango and pineapple are among the unique flavors offered.

Don’t wrinkle your nose, wine snobs. David is cutting edge.

With limited capital and manpower, David, a former industrial quality control executive (formerly of Pepsi), decided that while numerous wineries were busy slamming their heads against one another fighting over the limited supply of local wine lovers with offerings of Chardonnay, Merlot, and Pinot Noir, that he instead would create a small list of dessert wines, since the bigger wineries had eschewed them. This was the niche David decided he would fill.

The Pazdar Winery was started in 1995 by David and Tracy Pazdar to give consumers innovative and highly creative wines for their palates as well as top quality varietals. The "house" label comes from the original intended name for the winery "Chateau de la Forme Brise'™" A name that was created back when David was still in college. It translates as the House of the Broken Mold. They average 2-3 new wines each year. Wines are fermented in small barrels, the largest being 60 gallons. These are generally made from traditional grapes. The wines are very good.

In addition to using top quality grapes and other fruits from around New York, they use the finest spices from around the world. Some of the peaches in their fortified peach wine came from their tree. Many of the spices they grow themselves on their property. In 2007 they planted their first grape vines. Their first scheduled estate wines were planned for 2012-2013.

Through-out the year, David and Tracy gather ideas. Some come from their customers, others from reading, and others from divine inspiration. After the wines are fermenting and the farmers markets are over for the season; the fun begins. During the winter, David takes those ideas and turns them into reality. Using his skills and the taste palate of his wife Tracy (his chief taster) as well as others, he develops the new wines. This takes numerous trials, many times over a hundred. A new wine can take anywhere from a few weeks to over 5 years to come to fruition depending on its complexity.

They produced the first chocolate wine in the world (Eden’s Pleasure™). They were the first to win a 1st Place Scovie (an international gourmet food) award (Hot Sin®). They now have won more "Scovies" than any other winery in the world. Other wines winning awards have included Summer’s Ecstasy™ (a sweet peppermint wine) and some of their fruit ports.

The winery has been featured in numerous publications including the Times Herald Record, Wethersfield Post, Chile Pepper Magazine, and several newspapers in Westchester County.

David is the ultimate garagiste, and a road warrior. The winery has no tastingroom. He makes his wine in the basement and garage of their suburban house (which he recently doubled in size through new construction). There is no zoning in his residential neighborhood for such a business, so David has to sell his wares on the road. David packs his car to the brim, with little room to spare. He always drives a fuel efficient station wagon or sport utility vehicle, because he spends so much time driving far and wide. A Subaru Forrester was his office of necessity for many, many years. He recently bought a new car, a very exciting moment for him. Packed to the gills, he and Tom (with newspaper), sandwiches and thermos in hand, venture forth with the sun just rising, onto the New York State thruway headed somewhere.

David is one of the most ubiquitous winery owners in the Hudson Valley, possibly the state. You are as likely to meet him anywhere from Albany down to Westchester. You can sample his wares at several farmers markets up and down the valley. Or you can taste his wines at any one of a dozen or so festivals and pouring events. But there is nowhere David won’t go with his small specialized road show. Whether it’s the Empire State Plaza Farmer’s Market or the Finger Lakes Wine Festival, David will be there to meet you in his polo short, khaki shorts, and wire rimmed glasses. From Buffalo to Westchester, David has poured in as many towns as some of the biggest wineries in the state. And he’s always popular.

Knowing what David looks like and seeing him are two different things, because getting near enough to his stand to actually meet him is the hardest part. With his assortment of oddly titled wines, and odd flavor combinations, his is always among the busiest stands at any show, market, or festival. In fact many wineries will ask David at the end of day or at the end of an event if he was up or down, because he is so exacting. At the height of any show, regardless of where it is, David’s booth is always packed.

Firstly, he has an absolutely loyal following. At the Finger Lakes people will make sure he is among their five or six first stops. He is a destination at the event for them. The come to order early to make sure they don’t get shut out. David’s wines are small production. A busy fair, and you are guaranteed to get shut out of your favorite wine. And these people want their wine. They know which wine it is they want, and they buy it.
Secondly, David’s labels and marketing. On the traditional side, wines are by color or style, i.e. reds, whites, sparkling, etc. Not with David. His wines are listed by more ethereal categories, like Chocolate, Romance and Adventure Wines, Chivalrous Wines, Garden of Eden, and so forth.

They are also unusual in that the art on the labels is hand drawn, such as Ravishing Sunrise, with two lovers entwined on a beach, or some other sexy bottle like Hot Sin with a big lipstick kiss on it.

But in the end they come for the taste. David has excelled at funky wines, but they always taste good. Try his lemoncello, it’s fantastic. Try the hot pepper wine. Incredible. Try the cherry chocolate wine. The concept almost makes one’s head spin, but it’s a winner…it tastes great and it sells like crazy.

Another example is the original Dragon’s Fury a wine made with chili peppers. It’s one of his best sellers. Fans will tell you that his chili pepper wine is the ultimate compliment to pizza. And the more exotic the pizza combination? The better the pairing! People bottle bottles. Not just one either. And they come back time and time again. So much so, that there are now four different labels in the line, each of which are popular in their own right. That’s success.

Some wine snobs scoff at David. But David has been doing this for two-and-a-half decades now. He is a full time winemaker. And his success is a testament to his hard work and the quality of his wines. Many a wine festival has come and gone, and winemakers compare receipts, and sometimes shake their heads. David smiles, packs up his meager leftovers, and piles back into his overstuffed car, and rumbles on his way to the next stop. David rarely has a bad show. If you’re lucky, you get to meet him, and taste his wines…but you’ll have to stand in line!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Richard Leahy: Summer 2013 Adventures. Act II: Hudson Valley Quickie

Richard Leahy is a wine writer and consultant who has been reporting on the wines of Virginia and Eastern North America since 1986. He became well-known in the Eastern wine industry as East Coast Editor for Vineyard & Winery Management, and is the Mid-Atlantic and Southern Editor for the ground-breaking Oxford Companion to the Wines of North America (2000), a regional editor for Kevin Zraly’s  American Wine Guide. and assisted Steve DeLong on his recent Wine Tasting Notebook. Mr. Leahy is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers, professional organization of leading wine journalists based in the U.K.
Richard was the Executive Director of the Virginia Wine Experience in London in May 2007. Richard coordinates the conference program for the Eastern Winery Exposition, a major wine industry trade show for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern wine industries that takes place in Lancaster, PA annually in early March. - C. DeVito, Editor

With business in New England I stopped en route in the Hudson Valley to visit some wineries. I had hoped to visit three or four but became pressed for time and could only do a “quickie” tour visiting one heading east and one heading west. However both wineries were well worth the visit as I expect more of this old region is, home to the oldest continuously operating winery in the country (Brotherhood).

The Hudson Valley has long been pooh-poohed by wine sophisticates in the Big Apple, and while the Finger Lakes and Long Island regions have gained renown in the last decade with vinifera-based wines, the Hudson still has its strong suit in French hybrids, while often making vinifera wines from grapes brought in from those two other New York regions. However, the Hudson has also become a hotbed of the farm-to-table locavore movement, and the rise in its prestige for food sourcing for ambitious restaurants has shone a light on its now-respectable wine region as well.

Hudson Chatham WineryIn fact, Wine Enthusiast magazine recently had an article on the Hudson Valley which mentioned the wineries as well as the locavore movement, and one of those wineries was Hudson Chatham Winery, located about 15 minutes south of I-90 off the Taconic State Parkway south of the town of Chatham (1900 State Route 66, Ghent, NY 12075). While the winery makes perfectly fine vinifera wines from Finger Lakes fruit, its own vineyard is exclusively planted to French hybrids, a common situation in the Hudson Valley due to lack of the cold climate-moderating effect that the deep Finger Lakes or the Long Island Sound provide in those regions that allows them to plant cold-tender vinifera varieties.
Hudson Chatham Winery

I had heard that baco noir was a strong suit in the Hudson Valley, but the grape does not enjoy a good reputation. However, some baco specialists (such as Henry of Pelham Winery in Ontario) claim that if baco noir is treated with respect in the vineyard and winery, it will provide a fine red wine, and I have seen this happen, so I was pleased to discover that Hudson Chatham has an old vine reserve baco that reminded me of a fine Piedmontese red like dolcetto d’Alba or possibly barbera. On this brief visit I realized that baco noir has real potential for top quality in the Hudson Valley, and that local wineries are realizing that potential.

The Hudson Chatham baco noir estate old vines 2010 had an impressively dark violet color, an autumnal nose of dried cherries/plums and a bit of smoke, and smooth dark fruits on the palate with lively acid and spice in the finish.

I was also impressed with the seyval blanc 2012 (Hudson Valley) was very good, with an aromatic nose of grapefruit and melon. On the palate it was zesty with vibrant racy citrus and loads of grapefruit; a great food wine for summer.

The estate seyval block 1 2012 was barrel fermented in French oak. The nose was complex butterscotch with hints of pineapple. On the palate there was loads of zesty acidity but enough toned down by oak, with complexity and fine long minerality in the finish, a stylish wine.

The third excellent French hybrid wine showed that looking down on hybrids without tasting them first is grape racism. It was a nice surprise to taste a rare varietal leon millot 2011 (Castle Vineyard), with a nicely purple hue, clean earthiness on the nose, with smoky cherry notes, and on the palate, a fine fruit/oak balance with solid red fruits and a smoky finish.

A fun Hudson Chatham wine is their Hudson River Valley Red 2012 which is a hybrid red blend with 20% carbonic maceration and some grapes ripasso (concentrated through drying). The nose is smoky with smoky strawberry rhubarb hints. Palate is juicy with forward fruit, not sweet but easy and gently fruity.

Non-hybrid wines (with brought-in fruit) were also solid. A dry Riesling 2011 (Finger Lakes) had racy slate/flint notes with lime accents on the nose, with a palate of solid apple fruit with a grapefruit core. The wine drinks dry but is still fruity.

I was also impressed with the cabernet franc 2011 (Long Island) for a tough year; it had a light cherry nose, fragrant strawberry juice, light but clean and fresh.

I was even more impressed with the merlot 2011 (Long Island) with 24 months in 2 year old French oak. The nose is clean cherry with sage; on the palate it’s juicy and fresh and forward but dry; stylish.

DeVito is both versatile and consistent in quality. His cabernet sauvignon vintage port 2009 had classic cassis with smoky juiciness on the palate with fine tannins and well-balanced acid.

Perhaps the best red was the Empire Reserve 2010 (Merlot from Long Island, Cabernet Franc from Finger Lakes, and Baco Noir from the Hudson Valley). Bottled after 2 years and aged 6 months in the bottle, the nose has lots of cherry and dark bass notes of clean forest floor. The palate is closed but elegant, with a fresh Italian feel; stylish and promising.

The most original and impressive thing I tasted at Hudson Chatham was a cider from a 100 year old orchard with heirloom varieties. The nose was fine and complex but elegant. On the palate, it was vibrant with fine acid, fresh and crisp, but resembling champagne more than most commercial ciders, with a lively bead and tight fruit/acid balance.

After departing Hudson Chatham I had to drive to Rhode Island but returning en route to Pennsylvania I made a point of stopping in the Black Dirt fields of Warwick Valley near the New Jersey state line to visit the winery named after the Valley, which also produces Doc’s Cider.

Doc’s Cider (apple and pear) are a commercial success distributed in 22 states but I’m much more impressed with the still wines, and most especially the distilled products which are the best for quality/price ratio I’ve yet seen.

As at Hudson Chatham, Baco Noir is the local varietal star. As a table wine, it makes Black Dirt Red (NV) which is an unoaked, off-dry juicy quaffable and versatile wine. The nose is lovely clean black cherry and roses. On the palate, it is juicy and fruity with lots of zesty black cherry as good as any unoaked chambourcin.

Another successful baco product at Warwick Valley is Winston’s Harlequin Port made in a ruby style and fortified with New York brandy. The nose has chambourcin-like cherries, lots of spice and smoke, but clean. On the palate, the port is juicy, rich and lively with black cherry, pepper, oak hints and a clean finish.

Now for the star of the Warwick Valley line, the distilled products.

Bartlett Pear Liqueuer (18%) finished in oak. Nose: amazing pear and spice but no harsh heat. Palate: smooth, some sugar, nice complex oak nuances in finish. Original, stylish.

Black Currant Cordial (18%) Nose: wow! Amazingly vibrant fresh currants. Palate: juicy, zesty, bursting with lively fruit/acid balace, juicy and full but fresh finish. Outstanding.

Grappa (40%). Nose: subtle and fine, no hot alcohol esters. Palate: incredibly smooth, no coarse or burning texture, just smooth and fine all the way. Great value for $15/3735 ml. Gold medal in a major competition this year.

For a winery seemingly out on the edge of nowhere, Warwick Valley has a lot to offer, as does the Hudson Valley as a whole.

Read more at:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Visit Vortex: Ye Olde Hard Cider is Hipster Cool

Ye Olde Hard Cider is Hipster Cool

And the Valley's Flowing
Was Paul Revere a hipster? How do we connect these two? In his day, Paul imbibed a lot of cider (like all Americans of the period), and today it’s the preferred alcoholic beverage of the hippest foodies in Brooklyn and Manhattan. For centuries, the Hudson Valley has been producing apples for New York City and the Eastern Seaboard. Thousands of acres of apples are cultivated, and apple growers form the backbone of the region’s agricultural heritage and current farming community.
Sara Grady, director of special projects at Glynwood (a kind of sustainable farming think tank), points out that apple orchards have provided continuity and stability in the valley, saying, “Fruit growing is the only sector of agriculture where you can frequently see three or four generations of succession in the Hudson Valley. It’s a profound statement.”

Cider is amongst the oldest fermented alcoholic beverages known to man. Cider or cyder or cidre is fermented fruit juice, most commonly and traditionally apple juice, but also the juice of peaches, pears ("perry" cider), or other stone fruits. Cider varies in alcohol content from 2% ABV to 8.5% or more in traditional English ciders. In the United States and much of Canada, the alcoholic version usually carries the moniker “hard” to acknowledge its alcoholic content.

“Ciders once ruled all other drinks in taverns and farmsteads in early colonial America. Apple seeds were brought over on ships from Europe along with centuries of cider making traditions that quickly spread through the New World. With the westward expansion of pioneers and the help of "Johnny Appleseed", orchards were planted on most farms with the dual purpose of establishing proof of cultivation and homesteading and providing a source of cider. Fermented ciders were consumed in this region more than any other drink bar none,” writes Slyboro Cider House owner Dan Wilson, who is among the leaders of the cider revival in the Hudson Valley. It is estimated that typical Americans of the period took in an average of 34-35 gallons of hard cider a year.

According to Wilson, a combination of things led to the demise of cider in American culture, including prohibition, the urbanization movement during the industrial revolution that led to the abandonment of many orchards and agricultural customs, and the influx of German immigrants who introduced beer into our culture.

But cider is making a comeback! “English and French ciders are becoming increasingly common in the United States, as artisanal cider makers … use heirloom French and English cider apples and similar production techniques to create ciders that rival those of Europe,” reported Imbibe magazine. Even eminent wine professor and best-selling author Steven Kolpan of the Culinary Institute of America opined, “Hard Cider: What’s Old is New Again.”

Indeed, today cider is on the cutting edge. Not only can you get great traditional hard cider, but you can also try ciders that have been barrel-aged, hopped (with local hops), or spiced, as well as apple wines (usually much higher in alcohol) and iced ciders (think thick, unctuous dessert wine). And these new ciders can be found in Brooklyn and Manhattan—with foodies and gourmets lining up to try them all—from trendsetting restaurants to places like Murray’s Cheese in the Village.

The longest-tenured, continually producing cider maker in the Hudson River region is Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery with its Doc’s Hard Apple Cider line. It is the most popular and most widely distributed of all Hudson Valley ciders. Doc’s offers not only a mouth-watering traditional style, but also one tinged with raspberry, one that is hopped, and one with pumpkin (usually in fall).

Now there is a massive new birth. It is led by cider makers who have toured England, France, and Spain, trying different ciders, speaking with their European counterparts, trading information, and finding knowledge. They are using traditional cider apples from these regions as well as rediscovering Hudson Valley heirloom varieties as well.

The result? The Hudson Valley is brimming with cider! The Hudson Valley is the epicenter of the cider revival on the East Coast. Nowhere else is there this kind of concentration of cideries anywhere else. Longtime wine maker Jonathan Hull’s Applewood Winery is also a producer of the wildly successful Naked Duck line of ciders. New, cutting edge cideries like Arron Burr Cider, Kettleburough Cider House, and Bad Seed Hard Cider are solely dedicated to this new art form. They are making serious ciders with exciting new profiles. These aren’t sweet, apple-y hard ciders. Some are made using completely new forms of cider making.

Elizabeth Ryan, whose cider from the Hudson Valley Draft Cider Company has been featured on Martha Stewart, is another spokesperson for the renewal of cider in the Hudson Valley. She helped found Hudson Valley Cider Week, which will be held October 18-27. This annual event has become one of the keystones in the marketing of Hudson Valley agro-tourism. The promotion features grand tastings, restaurant cider dinners, symposiums, and much more.

So, who knows, maybe Paul Revere wore a pork pie hat, got inked, and wore Ray-Bans on his fateful ride. Maybe not. But there’s no doubt that he was hip, and, by drinking cider, you’d not only be drinking a bit of history, but you, too, could bring out your inner hipster!

For more information on Hudson Valley Cider Week, visit

A list of Hudson Valley producers:
Aaron Burr Cider
Annadale Cindery
Applewood Winery
Bad Seed Hard Cider
Breezy Hill Orchard
Brookview Station Winery
Hudson-Chatham Winery
Kettleborough Cider House
Slyboro Cider House
Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery

Who was Johnny Appleseed?
John Chapman (September 26, 1774 – March 11, 1845), often called Johnny Appleseed, was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, including the northern counties of present day West Virginia. He became an American legend while still alive, due to his kind, generous ways, his leadership in conservation, and the symbolic importance he attributed to apples.

Apple Cider Drinks:
Hudson Valley Cider Kir Royale
• Hudson Valley cassis
• Hudson valley cider
Fill champagne flute with cider, and add splash of cassis. Garnish with blueberries.

Snake Bite
• 1/2 pint lager
• 1/2 pint hard cider
Add beer, then cider. Garnish with a slice of orange.

Stone Fence
• 2 ounces gold rum
• 6 ounces hard cider
Fill pint glass with ice. Fill with cider. Add rum. Stir lightly and serve. Garnish? Apple slice!

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