Monday, February 27, 2017

Barrel Run Crossing Winery & Vineyard: Ohio Winery Visit

This Ohio winery combines grapes and trains. The results are on track with delicious results.

Lauren Pours at Barrel Run

Stop At A Refueling Depot

In the olden days of steam locomotives, trains would stop to take on water. They’d fill up their tanks with water to run the boiler, ensuring there’d be enough steam to finish the next leg of the journey.

We found ourselves in a similar situation when we recently returned from a friend’s birthday party near Pittsburgh. Deciding we would avoid the stress and nondescript scenery of the interstate, we were cruising along US 224 east of Akron when our “steam engine” needed to refuel. In other words, the Green Dragon said she needed to stop to eat.

A few spoken words to our phone very fortuitously showed a couple of wineries near our location. One is a rather well known winery, but it was closed on Sunday. We decided instead to visit Barrel Run Crossing Winery and Vineyard in Rootstown.

Barrel Run CrossingOur Backroads Trip Is Rewarded

We are fans of Ohio wineries and encourage support of local wineries and businesses. Sometimes our faith is rewarded, but there have been a few times were the quality is uneven. As Forrest Gump may have said, going into a winery in Ohio is like opening a box of chocolates – you never know what you are going to get. We’re pleased to report that the “chocolates” in this box were very tasty.

If we hadn’t decided to take the backroads on our return trip from PA, we never would have passed through Rootstown and other notable places like Ruggles, Ohio. Fate rewarded our wayfinding with a visit to a cool winery.

Soon after we pulled into the parking lot for Barrel Run Crossing, a freight train came roaring by – giving no doubt about the reason for the winery name. Barrel Run is the name of a nearby creek.

Barrel Run Crossing - OhioTrue To Its Roots

Barrel Run was derived from a family farm that had been in existence for four generations. Nick and Tirina Miller planted the first vineyard in 2006. Hay, soybeans and wheat have been grown along with 11 acres of eight different grape varieties. There is also a five-acre apple orchard, put to good use in their ciders and dry apple wines.

For the Millers, goals for the winery include producing superior wine that is authentically Ohio from Ohio grapes. They want to the land to continue to be used for agricultural purposes and provide jobs for the community.

Wine is produced mostly from estate grapes, with some being sources from other Ohio wineries. There is a small quantity of grapes from the family farm in North Carolina. White grapes grown in the vineyard include: Frontenac Gris, St. Pepin and Frontenac Blanc. Red estate grapes include Corot Noir, Frontenac, Marquette and Noiret.

Flavorful Cargo Delivered!

We mostly visit wineries for – you guessed it – for the wine. At Barrel Run Crossing the food is also an attraction. I enjoyed a tasty Turkey Gouda panini while the Green Dragon had grilled cheese with homemade tomato soup.

The tasting room has a view out to the vineyard and you can also see the trains rumble by. There are plenty of windows and comfortable seating for eating or drinking. To get the full experience, we opted for a flight.

Flights are served in a cross-section of a log branded with a very “railroady” BRX and holes drilled to hold the serving cups. The wines are railroad themed. We started with Traminette (OK, there is at least one that doesn’t have a railroad name). Traminette is a white hybrid grape that tastes very much like Gewürztraminer. Locomotion, a blend of Chardonnay, Traminette and Vidal, was more to the liking of Green Dragon – a light refreshing white.

High Iron looks almost orange in the glass and is a dry blend. It is early with a brambly flavor. The blend isn’t disclosed, but I’ll guess that it includes Marquette and perhaps Frontenac. The Roundhouse red is a blend of Frontenac and Cab Franc (about a 70-30 blend). This is enjoyable with a taste of pepper.

A chance meeting with new friends Charles and Cassandra added much to the enjoyment of our visit. They were recently married and had been staying nearby in a B&B and enjoying a tour of wineries. Making new friends and sometimes bumping into them later on the wine trail is an enjoyable aspect of visiting wineries.

We finished our tasting with Engine Number 5, of which we also purchased a bottle. Engine is a dry blend with cherry and blackberry flavors. This includes Noiret, a hybrid grape that’s deep in color.

In all, the wines were enjoyable. As you might expect, the body for the reds is lighter than a California wine. The flavor notes, though, are right on target. These are wines intended for enjoying over a casual meal or to open with friends at a get-together. 

Barrel Run Crossing is a great destination for wine lovers. Come by automobile, plane or train – you’ll enjoy the visit.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Domaine 2013 Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley

Domaine Serene

Yes, we know that Pinot Noir is the flagship grape of Burgundy. Yes, we know that California makes great Pinot and that New Zealand’s Pinot Noir is grand. But there is something about Willamette Valley Pinot Noir…

Dudley’s Do Right

A recent trip to Lexington, KY, for a board meeting had a delicious surprise. That surprise was Dudley’s on Short. Dudley's is known for its culinary prowess and, I discovered, a really great wine list.

The restaurant is located in the historic Northern Bank Building. Built in 1889 it was one of the most prominent in downtown Lexington and today provides a fascinating and ideal setting for meals.

My delight was heightened when I was informed that the group may not hit the minimum guarantee on the meal. That didn’t necessarily cheer me, but when I was asked to pick out a few bottles to bump up the total, I was happy to oblige.

Two wines from Oregon were among my picks, a sparkler from Argyle and a Pinot from… Willamette Valley.

Willamette Magic

The terroir of Oregon is similar to Burgundy, where Pinot Noir reigns supreme. So it is no surprise that Pinot Noir from Oregon is a real treasure. Three quarters of Oregon’s vineyards are within the Willamette Valley AVA. Willamette Valley is further subdivided into six sub-appellations: McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, Amity-Eola Hills, Yamhill-Carlton, Dundee Hills and Chehalem Mountains. Perhaps no area in the world produces better Pinot Noir.

The Yamhill Cuvée uses grapes primarily from the Yamhill-Carlton region where the Domaine Serene winery is located, but it is labelled “Willamette Valley” as it also uses grapes from Amity-Eola Hills and Dundee Hills. Domaine Serene considers this their “entry level” Pinot, but it consistently gets 90+ ratings and outshines many reserve Pinot Noirs.

On the palate this is a medium bodied wine with great balance. It is aged for 14 months in French oak (40% new), but it isn’t ponderous. The aging adds a bit of structure to a wine that offers raspberry and herbal notes. It’s a polished and elegant wine that complements a variety of food, especially lighter entrees. You don’t want a charbroiled T-bone to overpower your Pinot – but pork (a traditional pairing), chicken, lighter beef dishes and salmon are sublime.

Domaine Serene’s Yamhill Cuvée retails for about $44. It’s a superior wine that delivers Willamette Valley goodness for an affordable price tag.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

US Wine Exports Reach A Record $1.62 Billion

Nathan GrayUS wine exports have reached an all-time high. China’s thirst for wine is growing at an amazing pace.

SAN FRANCISCO—U.S. wine exports, 90% from California, reached $1.62 billion in winery revenues in 2016, a new record. Despite challenges from a strong dollar, winery revenues were up 1% from 2015. Volume was 412.7 million liters or 45.9 million cases.

"California wine exports continue to reflect the trend toward premiumization with the dollar value of our wine sales outpacing volume shipments. California wines are well positioned for this trend—our vintners are offering quality, value, diverse styles and environmental stewardship in their winemaking. Combined with the state’s iconic lifestyle, innovative cuisine and beautiful destinations, California wines continue to gain attention from consumers worldwide," said Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, Wine Institute President and CEO.

The Top Ten Markets

The top 10 export markets for US wines are: the European Union's 28-member countries, accounting for $685 million, followed by Canada, $431 million; Hong Kong, $99 million; Japan, $87 million; China, $82 million; Mexico, $24 million; South Korea, $23 million; Switzerland, $19 million; Singapore, $14 million; and Philippines, $13 million.

The volume of wine exported from the US actually declined to 109 million gallons in 2016 from a record 121.8 million gallons a year earlier. The value of the wine, however, increased from $1.6 billion to $1.62 billion.

"Trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), have helped to dramatically grow U.S. wine exports yet discriminatory non-tariff trade barriers continue to be crafted by foreign governments at a steady pace," said Tom LaFaille, Wine Institute Vice President and International Trade Counsel.

China showed particularly strong growth with a 47% increase in value in one year along with an 11% increase in volume. This demonstrates a meaningful growth in higher value products.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Open That Bottle Night Set For February 25

OTBN Dave's Phone 056Why let that special bottle gather dust while you wait for that perfect occasion which may never come? Celebrate life now – or more exactly on February 25 – during Open That Bottle Night.

Mark your calendar for Saturday, February 25.That's the date for Open That Bottle Night.

This is an international event designed to help you celebrate life by savoring a special bottle of wine.
Are you saving a certain bottle of wine for a special occasion that never seems to arrive? Created by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, wine writers for the Wall Street Journal, Open That Bottle Night makes the last Saturday in February just that occasion. Use OTBN as a reason to enjoy that special wine — while it’s still at its prime!

We hope you use this opportunity to pop a special bottle. Let us know about your OTBN experience (click on comment below).

Here are some tips for enjoying OTBN:

  1. Choose the Setting. Alone with a special loved one, at a dinner party with friends, or in a restaurant that permits BYOB.
  2. Select the Bottle. The important concept is that the bottle of wine or champagne have a special significance, not that it be particularly expensive or prestigious.
  3. Stand it Up. Sediment sometimes forms inside wine bottles, so you should set the bottle vertical position a few days before OTBN to let it settle to the bottom.
  4. Watch the Temperature. Both reds and whites are best served at about 55F (12C).
  5. Watch the Cork. Old wine-bottle corks may crumble during removal. If that happens, pour the wine through a coffee filter into a carafe until all the cork particles are separated.
  6. Watch the Oxygen. Older, fragile wines are quickly damaged by oxygen in the air. Keep them closed up.
  7. Have a Backup Wine Available. If your favored bottle has gone bad, you will still be able to enjoy the evening.
  8. Share Your Thoughts. Everyone should say a few words about the significance of their bottle.
  9. Give it Time. Gaither and Brecher report that they often hear of bottles of wine that becomes more delicious as the evening progresses.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Cusumano 2015 Nero D’Avola, Italy

Cusumano 2015 Nero D'Avola with PizzaThree billion pizzas are sold in the US each year. What goes best with this Italian specialty? How about a bottle of a little known wine from Italia?

Our Love Affair With Pizza

You know that America’s love of pizza has turned to obsession when research last year showed that six million US adults said they would give up sex for a year before giving up pizza. We do enjoy a good slice, but we’re not part of the six million.

We are part of the demographic that loves the Super Bowl, pizza a good red wine. You can thank GIs stationed in Italy who returned after World War II with a hankering for pizza they had discovered overseas. Pizzerias began sprouting between 1945 and 1960 and then the chains entered the picture. Pizza Hut started in 1958, Little Caesar’s emerged in 1959 and Domino’s came along in 1960. Papa John’s trailed the pack and opened in 1989.

Chain pizza helps us “scratch our itch,” but we prefer to make our own pizza. As the Falcons soared to an early lead, the Green Dragon was artfully preparing a Hawaiian style pizza (ham and pineapple) and a mushroom and pepperoni. To accompany our pizza pies, I selected the 2015 Nero D’Avola from Cusumano.

Autochthonous, Baby!

Yes, I did use “autochthonous” simply to get you to continue to read further. But it is a word with an important wine meaning. Autochthonous grapes are native or indigenous varieties that usually aren’t found in other parts of the world. This contrasts with international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay that can grow in numerous locales around the globe.

Italy is known for its vast array of native grapes, including Nero D’Avola. This “black grape of Avola” is the most important red wine grape in Sicily. A good rule of thumb when pairing wine with food is to choose a wine from the same region as the food. Nero D’Avola with a Sicilian specialty like pizza is a perfect match.

While the Falcons were being humbled by a historic come-from-behind loss, we were able to get solace from the Cusumano. This is a ruby red wine with a medium body. It has nice extracted fruit flavors of blackberry with some herbal notes. The tannins are very loose and so this is an inviting and highly accessible wine.

This is 100% Nero D’Avola that the Cusumano family grows in mineral-rich soils on the island of Sicily. Like the best pizzas, this wine is simple and authentic. At less than $15, this is a pizza-friendly and wallet-friendly wine.

Full disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Lambert de Seyssel Petit Royal, Grand Vin Mousseux, Savoie

Petit Royal

There were so many unknowns about this bottle of sparkling wine. So, I just had to have it. We popped the cork on a most unusual bottle of French bubbly.

Here a Mousseux, There A Mousseux

I must have looked at this bottle two dozen times. After the morning workout and before heading to the office, I often stop at Walt Churchill’s Market to pick up a muffin. My pit stop usually includes a swing through the wine aisle.

Tucked on a shelf of clearance wine was this bottle – Lambert de Seyssel Petit Royal. The term “mousseux” caught my attention. I knew that this is a word used for sparkling wine in France’s Loire Valley.

What I didn’t know is that the term is used in a number of French wine regions. So when I finally pulled the trigger and bought it, I carried home a bottle with an origin 400 miles east of the Loire.

Savoie Scores Again

I decided to serve the Petit Royal at the wine tasting held at our house. In researching the wine, I was surprised to see that it came from Savoie, one of the easternmost wine regions in France. The area is close to Lake Geneva and the Swiss border. We’ve had Vin de Savoie before, a Domaine Labbe Abymes made with Jacquère grapes. The white wine is crisp, refreshing and dirt cheap.

So I was enchanted with the Savoie connection. Seyssel is one of the best known villages in Savoie and is located on the Rhone river. Vineyards of the tiny Seyssel region were regularly mentioned in documents in the 11th century. In the 19th century a new Seyssel mousseux was created that gained great popularity. Queen Victoria was said to have enjoyed the sparkling wine during her visits to nearby spas.

The Royal Seyssel produced by the Varichon and Clerc families was considered to be the best sparkling Seyssel on the market. When the winery was sold in the 1990s, the quality spiraled downward. Upset with what had happened to this once heralded brand, Gérard and Catherine Lambert teamed up with Olivier Varichon, great-grandson of the founder, to buy back the Royal Seyssel label and recreate the light, floral wine that was once held in very high regard.

A “Somewhat” Traditional Take On Bubbles

There is a wide assortment of French sparkling wine worth tasting, but only bottles produced by the traditional method in the Champagne region can carry that name. The Petit Royal is made in the traditional method, with a second fermentation in the bottle. The differences in the Seyssel bubbly are as towering as the nearby Alps.

The competition ages their sparkling wine only nine months, which is the minimum. Petit Royal is aged for two years while its big brother Royal Seyssel is aged three to four years. This gives the wine more pronounced flavors and finer perlage (a cool French word for bubbles).

Petit Royal also contrasts with Champagne in its choice of grapes. Grapes used are Molette (70%) and Altesse (30%). The vines for the Petit Royal are 10 to 25 years old. Molette is a native Savoie variety while Altesse is a newcomer, being introduced in 1393. Molette has small golden berries and provides high acidity. Altesse is aromatic and provides aging potential.

The flavor left us scratching our heads. We are used to Champagne with yeast, toast and light fruit notes. The Petit Royal, while nicely dry, had a sharp almost peppery taste mixed with threads of floral flavor.

So, while we enjoyed it, Seyssel sparkling wine won’t replace Champagne or Cava in our wine cellar. Petit Royal is worth a sip, but if you can find it, the Royal Seyssel may be the way to go.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Capezzana 2010 'Villa di Capezzana', Carmignano DOCG, Italy

CarmingnanoChances are you are familiar with Chianti, one of Italy’s most famous wines. Time to broaden your Italian wine horizons with Carmignano, which once commanded a price topping any other wine in the country.

A History Worth Savoring

One of the great benefits of the rigorous studying to get the Certified Specialist of Wine designation is the introduction to scores of wines that were completely new to me. Carmignano is such an example.

Coming from a tiny DOCG (Italy’s top tier of wine regions) in Tuscany, Carmignano wines caused barely a blip on my wine radar. My attraction to this wine came when I learned that they were “Super Tuscan” before Super Tuscan was cool.

Super Tuscans are the product of rebellious winemakers in Italy who refused to conform to the traditional and stringent guidelines for grape growing and wine production in Tuscany. They wanted to produce wines with international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – strictly verboten by the regulatory council.

They pressed onward, selling their wine as “table wine” instead of the prestigious DOCG. They produced some modern classics, such as Sassicaia and Tignanello and eventually the Italian winemaking world buckled and created the IGT category for these popular wines.

Ahead By A Century

The first Super Tuscan, Sassicaia, was produced in 1968 and winemakers in Carmignano may have chuckled. They have been producing wine using international grape varieties for centuries. The roots of the wine can be traced to 1369 when a document mentions that the wine was four times more expensive than any other wine of that time. In the 1700s, Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici established the Carmignano area as a grape nursery which included Cabernet Sauvignon vines from France.

Enter your time machine and set your controls for the present day (actually last month). I was responsible for selecting the wine for a board of directors dinner in Orlando at well known Italian restaurant Il Mulino. I locked in the 2010 Villa de Capezzana Carmignano for the red choice.

Carmignano is a dry red and it did not disappoint paired with a variety of entrees from pasta to steak. Carmignano is at least 50% Sangiovese and requires 10% to 20% of either Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc in the blend. Canaiolo Nero can also make up to 20% of the mix.

Tenuta di Capezzana is a winery with a long history in Tuscany and today produces more than half of all the DOCG Carmignano each year. That’s fine with me. The 2010 bottle was rich in fruit and powerful with blackberry and dried cherry flavors. It finishes with a drying sensation on the tongue.

The Capezzana 2010 Carmignano retails for about $26. That’s a bargain for a Super Tuscan with a boatload of history.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Max Ferd Richter: Delivering Riesling Goodness Since 1680

Max Ferd Richter

Yes, we love Riesling. Our taste runs dry. What’s the verdict when we uncork some of the sweet stuff from Mosel?

More Than Three Centuries Of Practice

If practice makes perfect, German winery Max Ferd Richter must surely have perfected Riesling by this time. The winery began as a wine export company in 1680. Today the ninth and 10th generation of the Max Ferdinand Richter family own, manage and operate the winery. With the belief that great wine comes from the vineyard, grapes are cultivated on the steep slopes of the Mosel Valley. All harvesting is done by hand using sustainable farming practices.

During a recent session of the wine education program Wine Studio we had a chance to taste two 2015 releases from Max Ferd Richter.

Germany’s Best Known Wine Region

The Mosel wine region, which takes its name from the Mosel River, stretches from the French border to where the Mosel joins the Rhine. Fifty percent of the vineyards are Riesling. The steep slaty hillsides produce excellent minerally Riesling which is capable of aging for many years.

Max Ferd Richter produces only Riesling and can draw upon some of the best vineyards in this renowned region. We sampled the 2015 Richter Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett Riesling  and the 2015 Richter Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett Riesling.

There was no indication on the label of the sweetness of the wine. With German wines, you can get a good estimation by looking at the alcohol percentage. The lower the alcohol level, the higher the sweetness. Fermentation of wine is basically sugar being converted into alcohol and the less sugar converted into alcohol, well you get the picture.

Both of these wines are sweet – but in a lush, opulent way. Green Dragon prepared an assortment of dishes seeking to find the perfect match with this duo of German Riesling. We started with roasted honey balsamic Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and ham. Then the Dragon amped up the culinary event with some spicy Pad Thai shrimp.

That gave us some sweet dishes to pair as well as one with some flashes of spice. Ham is always a good match with Riesling as is Asian food.

Delivering The Verdict

These were enjoyable wines, and quite affordable at $22 SRP. I’m not sure it will reverse our longing for crisp, dry Riesling – but it was refreshing to have full, rounded flavors without the sharp-edged acidity.

Acidity does provide balance to these wines, but never interferes with a full spectrum of honeyed flavors. Himmelreich means “kingdom of heaven” and the flavors were indeed heavenly with citrus and floral notes.

Brauneberger (brown mountain) is one of the most prestigious vineyards in the Mosel and Juffers is a single vineyard designation on the location of a former convent. This Riesling edged to the top position in my judging, with more noticeable acidity, a lovely tropical citrus aroma and a smattering of minerality.

Max Ferd Richter produces a full range of Riesling from bone dry to ice wines. They even offer a sparkling Riesling. This is a name and winery you can trust for wines to please all palates. Their quality has been proven for more than 300 years – and in case that isn’t enough, I verified it once again last week. Cheers!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Dry Creek Vineyard 2013 Merlot, Dry Creek Valley

DCV Merlot 1

Pinot Noir may get the lion’s share of attention in Sonoma, but Merlot is well represented in vineyards. This classic Bordeaux variety shines in this bottling from Dry Creek Vineyard.

Small But Mighty

Merlot isn’t made in great quantities by Dry Creek Vineyard, which is known more for its Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. The winery has the capability to turn out some great Merlot and has had some outstanding reserve and single vineyard vintages.

The 2013 harvest will be remembered for near perfect conditions. It was one of the driest seasons on record in Dry Creek Valley, one of our favorite subregions of Sonoma. The summer was mild followed by a crisp fall – ideal conditions to allow the Merlot grapes growing on red, iron-rich soil to ripen slowly and fully.

Massive Flavor

We have been sampling a number of white wines recently, so Green Dragon demanded a bottle of red. I was happy to oblige with this DCV Merlot.

In the glass this is deep in color and opaque, creating a sense of mystery. As we unwrapped the mystery, we enjoyed a full body. The blend is 85% Merlot with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. That’s a righteous Bordeaux-style blend that provided an abundance of flavor.

Flavors were bold and expansive. Notes of currant and black cherry mix pleasantly with a layer of earth and a nip of spice.

Aging is for 17 months in French and Hungarian oak with 35% being new. That translates to subdued oak notes and smooth tannins. The finish is long with spice again on the backside.

The 2013 DCV Merlot was named one of the best Merlots in California in a 2016 competition (Fifty Best) and we can’t argue with that. This is a immensely satisfying Merlot. for $26 SRP makes it even more so.

Full disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Friday, January 27, 2017

5th Annual Glass City Wine Festival March 4 In Toledo

torbackTickets are now on sale for the Glass City Wine Festival. The fifth edition of this popular event will take place March 4 at the Seagate Convention Center in Toledo.

Admission tickets are from 1:00 to 4:00 PM ($25) and 6 PM to 9 PM ($30). VIP tickets cost $10 more and get you in one hour earlier. All tickets sell quickly, especially the VIP tickets. The VIP tickets are well worth the extra expense and allow you to avoid long lines. You get the hint, if you are planning on going, you should buy your tickets now.

Glass City Wine Festival is an opportunity to taste regional wines, sample gourmet cheese and fare from local restaurants and shop for unique gifts from a number of local, craft businesses. Many popular Ohio wineries will be pouring at the event.

This has turned into a great annual celebration of wine. It’s fun and fashionable with plenty of great wine. Around 20 wineries are expected to participate. You can find the list of confirmed wineries here.

For more information, and to order tickets, visit the Glass City Wine Festival website here.

Photo Credit: torbakhopper Flickr via Compfight cc