Monday, September 18, 2017

Brewery Bhavana Bolsters Raleigh Dining Scene With Curious Blend Of Food, Beer And Atmosphere

Brewery BhavanaDo a brewery, bookstore and florist shop belong together? Heck, yes! Brewery Bhavana has burst on the Raleigh dining scene as one of the country’s best new restaurants.

A New Triangle Destination

One of the reasons we relocated to the Raleigh area is the great dining and entertainment scene. So we were delighted when friends Linda and Eric invited us to check out Brewery Bhavana, the hottest new eatery in North Carolina’s Triangle region.

So difficult is it to get reservations, that our reservations were at 5:15. So funky is Brewery Bhavana that arriving at an early hour with time to browse around is a good thing.

Brewery Bhavana, owned by brother and sister duo  Vanvisa and Vansana Nolintha, combines a tap room, flower shop and book store. The restaurant opened in March and has been named one of the top new restaurants (number 10) in the United States by Bon Appétit. The Nolinthas are the team behind the popular Bida Minda Laotian restaurant next door.

Floating Zen Garden Of Tranquility

Now, I’m not sure there is such a thing as a floating Zen garden of tranquility – but that’s what the interior design of Brewery Bhavana brought to mind. It has a clean aesthetic with round lighting globes and an organic looking chandelier. Even the tap room has smooth granite lines with tap handles protruding from the wall sans tacky beery advertising. The flower shop and book store blend seamlessly into the dining space, bringing strikingly beautiful flowers and quirky and fascinating books into the dining experience.

Brewery Bhavana dinnerWe enjoyed the chic but not ostentatious setting while waiting for Eric and Linda. They got hung up in traffic, and so we browsed the book selection and ordered a couple of beers.

Beers at Bhavana are brewed under the guidance of Patrick Woodson at their private production brewery down the street. They have 10 core beers and a slew of provisional beers to round out their 40 taps.

I started with Plow, an American Pale Ale that they term a “gracious pale ale.” The Green Dragon opted for the Sow, a Belgian Pale Ale. These were fresh and frothy, just what we needed to take the edge off a long day.

Dim Sum Dynamics

The specialty of Brewery Bhavana, aside from its beer, is dim sum. Dim sum is Chinese “small bites” usually served in steamer baskets or small plates. In other words, they are perfect for tapas-style sharing.

When the rest of our party arrived, we ordered a first round of dishes. When visiting tapas restaurants, we’ve found its good to order a few dishes to start – if it’s obvious that everyone is famished and the food is disappearing rapidly, you can order more. What we like about dim sum and tapas, is that it is more social. Everyone is trying the same thing as opposed a meal where everyone gets one dish and someone might get stuck with a bummer entrée.

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Our first volley included pan-fried shrimp and corn cakes with ginger and a chive sauce, edamame and ginger dumplings, chicken curry bao and Jiaozi chicken dumplings. Perfectly hydrated with ample beers, we began to sample the cuisine. All the dishes were impeccably plated and our eyes enjoyed the artistry before we dug in. We gamely tried the chopsticks, but for some of these dishes, they needed an assist from the knife and fork.

Bhavana Brewery decorThe shrimp and cork cakes were winners as was the chicken curry bao dumplings. The chicken curry dish offered a pop of heat at the end, and so was a great match with our beer (who knew?). Eric is a fan of heartier beers and his selections included the Imperial Stout, deep and dark with a slightly sweet taste. Linda tried the Wilt, a cherry-smoked quadrupel beer with an enchanting smoked flavor.

We had a second round of dim sum and this time our choices included spinach curry puffs and my favorite of the evening, scallion pancakes with oxtail in bone marrow and coconut-soy jam. This latter dish pushed all the right buttons. The marrow was artfully blended with the jam to create an explosion of flavor that was a spot on pairing with the pancakes. The pancakes provided a contrast in flavor and textures.

The food, service and décor of Brewery Bhavana strikes the right balance of being upscale, but accessible – a cool place for outstanding craft beer after work, or the destination for a special dinner out. We raise our chopsticks in salute and give our hearty recommendation.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Matthews 2011 Claret, Columbia Valley

Matthews Claret and steakGrilling a fat juicy steak to stretch out the last days of summer? Wines from Washington State are a great match – and we have a top pick for you. Pour a glass and read on.

An Undiscovered Gem

We recently made a trip to the butcher shop in Cary, NC, not far from our new hometown. The Butcher’s Market not only had the meat we had searched high and low for, it was conveniently located next to Great Grapes, a wine store we decided we must visit.

Great Grapes has an expansive selection of wine, and I was quite pleased with that. But when I opened the curtain to the back room, which had the clearance wine, I was in my zone.

It was there I spied the Matthews 2011 Claret, from Washington State. I could tell this was a premium bottle, and we’re over the top fans of wines from Washington. There was also an attractive discount.

Somewhere there’s a receipt with the exact price I paid. As I recall it was sub-$30 for a bottle with a SRP of $40.

Overdelivering On Flavor

Why do we love Washington wines? This Matthews Claret is a great example. The flavors are rich and lush and drink like bottles twice the price. They also tend to be more accessible – you don’t have to cellar them for 15 years to loosen up tightly wound tannins. They deliver drinking pleasure from the get-go.

Matthews Claret 2011The bottle stood ready and waiting in my wine room – but it didn’t have to wait long. The Green Dragon’s brother and his wife had been vacationing in Florida when they were driven north by Hurricane Irma. That was a great excuse to fire up the grill, toss on some rib eyes and enjoy a meal with roasted corn on the cob and twice-baked potatoes.

This claret is a blend of 68% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc. We decanted it for about an hour, then put a slight chill on the decanter right before we sat down to dinner.

Matthews Claret is a silken wine, smooth and satisfying. It bubbles over with flavors of raspberry and currants. There’s a touch of mocha as you savor the finish. It also melded perfectly with the steak. A bite of steak and a swallow of Matthews helped to wash away the anxiety of the stormy day and the drumbeat of the 24-hour news cycle.

Matthews is from Woodinville, Washington. Somehow we missed visiting their tasting room during our recent trip there. We’ll be sure to catch them on the next trip. Their style is guided by the great wines of Bordeaux for both red and white wines. Their website lists the 2011 Claret as being sold out, but you may be able to find some in a local wine shop, as I did. The most recent vintage is 2014, but I suspect the extra bottle age is what made the 2011 so scrumptious.

Matthews Claret is highly recommended. Don’t wait for a natural disaster to enjoy it.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Wine, Travel & Food News From Vino-Sphere: Sept. 8, 2017

A weekly round-up of news, notes and happenings

Champagne, Harvest and the Holy Spirit

Champagne DrappierChampage Drappier reports from the harvest in Champagne, France. “The crush kicked off on Tuesday, the 5th of September. A very nice harvest is underway with highly promising acid and sugar ratios. Admittedly, the frost severely damaged our estate in April, however, the season was especially good and provided a second generation of bunches, thereby allowing our Pinot Noirs to partly catch up their delay,” explained Michel Drappier. André Drappier, who is almost 91 years old, Michel and his son, Hugo, are pleased to harvest superb Pinots from the locality called Saint Esprit (Holy Spirit). This name was derived from the Cistercian estates, belonging to the abbey of Clairvaux, several parcels of which, are now owned by the Drappier family. Since its foundation in 1808, the Champagne house has been managed by the Drappier family, the origins of which go back to Rémy Drappier in 1604, who, like Nicolas Ruinart, was a merchant in Reims. One ancestor, Francois Drappier, moved to Urville in 1805 and became a vine-grower, three years later.

Buttonwood Wins NY Governor’s Cup

Each year, a group of experts gather at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel of the Finger Lakes Region to sample the best of the best in New York Wines. It's a competition called the New York Wine and Food Classic, sometimes referred to as  “The Oscars” of New York Wine.

On August 8th& 9th, 21 judges sampled 915 wine, 27 hard cider and 16 craft spirit entries, and have the tough task of choosing which are their favorites in each category. The top prize at this competition is the prestigious Governor’s Cup, a large silver chalice that recognizes the "Best of Show" or top prize of all the entries in the Classic. This year's Governor's Cup winner is Buttonwood Grove, a member of the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. Their 2016 Riesling came out on top, among 958 entries.

Ferrari Trento Is Official Sparkling Wine At Emmys

Ferrari Brut photo by Vino-SphereFerrari Trento returns as official sparkling wine of the Emmy® Awards Season for the third consecutive year, bringing a touch of Italian style to the long - awaited event of American television scheduled for September 17 in Los Angeles.

The theme chosen this year by the Television Academy for the Governors Ball, which follows the awards ceremony, is the match between elegance and sustainability. This choice is in concert with the practices of the winery. Ferrari makes elegance the distinctive feature of its Trentodoc bubbles and pursues sustainability throughout its activity both in the vineyard and in cellar.

Michter's Distillery Offers First Release of US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Rye

This month Michter's Distillery is releasing a limited amount of US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Rye for the first time. Michter's US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Rye is made by taking Michter's US*1 Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye at barrel strength and then aging it for an additional period in a second custom-made barrel. This second barrel is assembled from 24-month air dried wood and then toasted but not charred. The toasting profile was specifically designed to enhance the spice character in the rye while adding hints of dark toast and smoke. Because Michter's US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Rye is a barrel strength product, the proof varies a bit from barrel to barrel. The average barrel proof for the toasted rye barrels bottled for this release is 108.6. Because Michter's does not have adequate stocks to meet demand for its items, the release will be on a limited basis. SRP is $75.

Giò and Wine Trees Partner to Introduce Pinot Grigio Rosé and Pinot Grigio

September 5, 2017 (Santa Rosa, CA)Wine Trees, a distributor focused on interesting small lot wines, has partnered with Italian wine collective Giò (pronounced “joe”) have partnered to launch the Giò 2016 Pinot Grigio (delle Venezie IGP) and 2016 Pinot Grigio Rosé (Veneto IGP) wines into the U.S. Market.

The strategic partnership brings Giò’s unique Pinot Grigio Rosé (Rosato in Italian) to the U.S. for the first time. Although Pinot Grigio is a red-skinned grape, few Pinot Grigio wines are made into Rosé; the Giò Pinot Grigio Rosé is macerated on the Pinot Grigio grape skins for nearly 48 hours, giving it a lovely pale pink color and imparting the generous palate with ripe red fruit and a bright minerality (SRP $11.99). The Pinot Grigio (SRP $11.99) is delicate yet complex; round with bright acidity, generous citrus notes, and nice structure. Giò is short for giòvane, the Italian word for “young”.   dates back to 1948 and, today, helps support 1,300 families. They are farmers first and take great pride in the land and vineyards behind Giò.

Winesellers Ltd. Celebrates 40 Years

Winesellers, Ltd. celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, marking a two-generation legacy as an acclaimed importer and marketer of quality wines from around the globe.  The Niles, IL-based family-run company was founded in November 1977 by Yale Sager. The company is now overseen day-to-day by his two sons, Adam and Jordan.

Carmel Road room at Vendange Carmel InnVendange Carmel Inn Announces Wine-Themed Room by Carmel Road Winery

Carmel Road wines are inspired by the wind and the waves that define Monterey, which in turn inspired the vision for the Carmel Road wine room at the Vendange Inn. “We were honored to be selected to bring one of their suites to life with the Carmel Road look and feel,” says Chrissy Gray, Carmel Road tasting room manager. “We chose cool blue and seafoam green tones to give guests that tranquil feeling of being at the beach. Think upscale picnic with your toes in the sand — with a wine glass in hand, of course!”

Gray says they wanted to bring to life the coastal, peaceful vibe found in Carmel, as well as in their tasting room, so they created several large photo canvases showcasing the nearby ocean, with a wine-themed twist. There’s also a beautiful nook under a wine rack where guests can sit and simply relax with a glass of Carmel Road Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.

To really give guests a sense of what Carmel Road Winery has to offer, in the room they will find a selection of Carmel Road wines for purchase, information about their wine club as well as the winery, beautiful etched glasses, stone coasters, plush throw blankets, and complimentary tasting cards for up to four people.

Carmel Road joins 14 other wineries in partnership with Vendange to sponsor wine-themed rooms. Inland from Monterey’s rugged coastline, the winery tailors its viticulture and winemaking techniques to capture the compelling character of this windswept area.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Pair Of Israeli Wines Deliver Quality During Holidays And Beyond

The table is set for an Israeli wine dinner

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish high holidays. Festive meals with wine and sweet delicacies are eaten during the 10 day period. Here we sample two outstanding Kosher wines from Israel suitable for a holiday meal – or for those of any faith who appreciate good wine.

Israel Knows A Thing Or Two About Wine

Wine has existed in Israel since ancient times. In the bible, the book of Deuteronomy lists the “fruit of the vine” as one of seven blessed species of fruit found in the land of Israel. Since wine is a central part of Jewish religious practice, Israel has worked hard to develop a wine industry despite the obstacles presented by arid desert, insufficient water and periodic warfare. Today there are more than 100 wineries producing more than 10 million bottles per year.

There are five major wine-producing regions and we recently had the opportunity to enjoy bottles from the Jerusalem Mountains and Samson regions. Our two wines were: 2014 Bravdo Coupage from Karmei Yosef Winery, Samson, and 2013 Psâgot Edom, Jerusalem Hills. Both are Kosher, available in the US and quite suitable for Jewish holidays or quaffing by non-Jewish wine lovers too.

Lamb in apricot-mushroom sauceA Suitable Feast

For us, wine is usually just part of the equation. To bring out the best in the wine, we like to pair it with the proper meal or food. I try to help, but usually this is the domain of the Green Dragon, my wife who has great culinary skills. As we had out of town guests, the Green Dragon was capably assisted by her sister Janine, niece Chelsea and friend Maria.

IDuo of Kosher wines had located a recipe for a lamb dish recommended for Rosh Hashanah: Sliced Lamb with Apricot-Mushroom Sauce. We prepped the entrée and then put it in the oven for a long baking time. During that time we visited a farmer’s market, went to watch drone races and had lunch. At the farmer’s market I made my other contribution to the meal – purchasing local micro-greens.

So, I stepped out of the way and let the culinary team do their thing. The resulting meal was the aforementioned lamb entrée with Israeli couscous, garlic green beans, Greek salad and challah bread.

Historically Great Wines

North Carolina happened to experience spectacular weather during the Labor Day weekend, and so our festive meal took place outside. We first poured the Psâgot Edom.

Psâgot Edom gold coinThe Edom bottle is very distinctive, bearing an attached golden coin. It is a replica of a coin from the period of the Great Revolt (66-73 CE) which was excavated from the cave that would become Psâgot’s barrel room. The winery is located in the northern Jerusalem Mountains which has produced outstanding wine for centuries.

Edom is a blend of 63% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petite Verdot and 10% Cabernet Franc. That’s a classic Bordeaux-style blend, and it dashes any misconceptions that all Kosher wine is sweet and poorly made.

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On the palate the wine starts a bit “hot.” It has 14.5% alcohol but it wasn’t long before the wine opened up and smoothed out. Lamb is a robust dish, and the Psâgot was a good pairing – matching strength with strength.

Wines from Israel pair beautifully with dinnerThe wine has flavor notes of deep red cherry and earth. Oak notes are evident thanks to 14 months in oak barrels. Edom undergoes malolactic fermentation, which adds to the complexity and smooth character.

Top of Bravdo CoupageThe Bravdo Coupage is another red blend, but this time Cab Franc

driven. The blend is 33% Cabernet Franc, 27% Shiraz and 27% Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery is led by Professor Ben Ami Bravdo and has a 130 year tradition of winemaking that incorporates technological knowledge. Professor Bravdo is a faculty member of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

On the palate, the Coupage offers a tart cranberry flavor. The unfiltered wine is aged in oak for 12 months and has an enjoyably long finish. This has dark, rich flavors of brambly berries and a bit of toast. Again, this scored high marks for pairing with the lamb.

Some consider today the “golden age” of Kosher wine. The consumption of Kosher wine is outpacing that of general wine in the US by 100% and consumers are very anxious to try high end wines from Israeli winemakers. These two wines are not only very good Kosher wines, but very good wines period.

They both wines retail for $35 and are highly recommended.

Tangent Wines Eclipse Other Convenience Cans

Tangent Iced

Doing The Can Can

Readers of this blog know that we don’t go ga-ga over canned wine. The beauty of a glass bottle, the whole ritual of popping a cork (or deftly unscrewing a screw closure) and pouring adds to the enjoyment of wine. But as we have discovered lately, there is indeed a time and a place for wine in cans.

For us the major hurdle with canned wines is two-fold. First, the can prevents you from seeing the wine and drinking from a can just isn’t as enjoyable as sipping from a glass. The second issue is what’s in the can. In general it isn’t awesome or crafted with the care of even a $10 bottle of wine. Tangent Wines is determined to adjust the attitude of people like me.

Tangent GlassAn Uncommon Can

We tasted cans of Tangent wine two ways, first with a dinner of Mahi-Mahi and second chilled down to observe the solar eclipse. What sets Tangent apart from other canned counterparts is that Tangent is a very successful winery in its own right, producing very good bottles of white wine. Located in the Edna Valley AVA in California, it specializes in “alternative whites” such as Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Albariño.

Tangent Wine founder Jack Niven came to San Luis Obispo in the early 1970’s with a vision to plant a vineyard in what was then dairy farmland and bean fields. He went on to petition to establish Edna Valley as an AVA. Today the second and third generation of the Niven family continue his legacy.

We first tried the Sauvignon Blanc with a fish entree. Canned wine typically isn’t vintage wine, but this is – 2016. The grapes come from the Nivens’ Paragon Vineyard.

The can is 375 ML, which is half a standard wine bottle. That means you have about two and a half glasses in each can.

The biggest take-away from our meal is that the canned Tangent wine is good. In fact, if I served this to my wife without telling her it was from a can, she wouldn’t have blinked an eye. There is no tinny flavor, and it is fresh and flavorful. It has nice citrus notes with medium acidity.

Eclipse Pops The Top

Accompanying a fancy dinner really isn’t the strong suit of canned wine – even good canned wine. You’d do better with some of the very nice bottles that Tangent produces. Instead, the forte of canned wine is convenience.

In North Carolina, we were viewers of the solar eclipse, where we enjoyed 96% totality. The Green Dragon harrumphed a bit, but I let her know in no uncertain terms that we were going to chill down wine and enjoy the eclipse watching on the patio – even though it started before 2 in the afternoon.

Joining the Tangent 2016 Sauvignon Blanc in the ice bucket was the 2016 Tangent rosé. The rosé is a cool blend of Albariño, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Grenache. I don’t believe we’re ever had that blend in a wine,  rosé or otherwise.

As we scurried around with our eclipse glasses and pinhole projector, we popped open some Tangent cans. Chilled Sauvignon Blanc and rosé are always winners in the heat – and it was quite a hot day. The rosé delivered wisps of cherry along with tropical notes.

The cans worked well because, with everyone walking around looking up at the sun, we didn’t have to worry about our good wine glasses shattering on the patio. They also fit nicely in a can cooler, helping to maintain its chill.

The wine was so refreshing that it felt like the temperature dropped 15 degrees. (Actually, it did – but that was the result of the moon almost entirely blocking the sun.)

The Verdict

We liked both these canned Tangent wines. The convenience of cans is growing on us and we can see it for the right occasion – like backpacking or a float trip down the river. The SRP for the cans is $7.99 each. This is good vino – but the price seems a bit high. I’m not sure if customers will want to pay nearly $48 for a six pack of wine cans. For the right situation, though, this could be just the ticket. Tangent is the first canned wine that is SIP-certified (sustainable) and is available nationwide. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wine, Travel & Food News From Vino-Sphere: August 30, 2017

Rafael Soriano

Univision Donates 57 Artworks to Florida International Frost Art Museum

The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum FIU has announces a major donation by Univision Communications Inc. (UCI) of 57 artworks from its collection, featuring serigraphs, paintings and mixed media works by 40 artists and masters from throughout Latin America and the United States, including: Cundo Bermudez, Coqui Calderon, Humberto Calzada, Antonia Guzman, Wifredo Lam, Rafael Soriano, Fernando De Szyszlo. The artists in this collection are from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela.

The museum will showcase many of the gifted works in the new exhibition Reflections of the Americas: New Acquisitions from the Collection of Univision (Sept. 23-Jan. 3, including Art Basel season). The opening reception is free and open to the public on Saturday, September 23 from 4:00-7:00 p.m. The museum is located on the campus of Florida International University, 10975 S.W. 17 Street , Miami.

Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival

The Edgartown Board of Trade is honored to announce the Tenth Annual Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival taking place October 19-22.  This four-day grand anniversary celebration of the senses provides memorable experiences that showcase the tastes and talents of skilled winemakers, sommeliers, chefs and culinary artisans from the Island and all over the world.

A few of the featured events of the weekend include:

  • Fresh Off The Farm - A delicious, community gathering and weekend kick-off combining Island farms and chefs with wine tastings and the music of the Vineyard’s “Good Night Louise;”
  • Somm Throw Down – A face-off of three wine personalities - Joseph Carr, Sam Decker of Atria, and Heather Lynch of Bar Mezzana - to battle for the ultimate pairing of wine and food, prepared by Colin Lynch of Bar Mezzana;
  • Award-winning Boston chef Jeremy Sewall Dinner at Harbor View Hotel’s Lighthouse Grill – Jeremy Sewall of Boston’s Island Creek Oyster Bar, Les Sablons and Row 34, joins Lighthouse Grill Executive Chef Richard Doucette to prepare an unforgettable dinner paired with specially selected wines ;
  • Woodford Reserve Bourbon Dinner – An exclusive prix fixe dinner hosted in a private home, paired perfectly with specially crafted Woodford Reserve cocktail recipes to draw out the best flavors in both dish and drink;
  • Ahearn Seminar – A walking tour and discussion with renowned architect Patrick Ahearn on the history of Martha’s Vineyard architecture and how the town of Edgartown developed into what it is today;
  • Grand Tasting – Located on the Great Lawn of the Harbor View Hotel, the Grand Tasting is the culmination of the weekend's celebration of Sea, Farm & Vine, showcasing winemakers, spirits, breweries, gourmet foods, and restaurants;
  • Champy Brunch – Brunch and bubbly with Jenny Johnson – founder of Champy champagne and tv personality from NESN’s Dining Playbook.

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Mobile Hello Penny Bar Rolling Through Southern California

Penny BarLooking for a touch of elegance and beauty for your next party? Try Hello Penny Bar, a 1946 vintage trailer that has been professionally restored and converted into a mobile bar servicing all of Southern California. The bar has a chic feel designed to make cocktail hour feel magical

Halter Ranch’s Lucas Pope Named to WE 40-Under-40 List

Halter Ranch Vineyard in Paso Robles, has announced that its vineyard manager, Lucas Pope, has been named to Wine Enthusiast’s coveted 40 Under 40 List in the upcoming October 2017 issue. Pope is first vineyard manager to ever make the list. The 40 Under 40 list is normally made up of winemakers, sommeliers, and wine media influencers. Pope was named to the list for his, and Winemaker Kevin Sass’s groundbreaking and innovative work in helping Halter Ranch beat back Red Blotch, a slow-progressing disease that over time can destroy grapevines, which is running rampant in California. Halter Ranch Vineyard, a historic property on the west side of Paso Robles, specializes in estate-grown Bordeaux and Rhône Valley varietals and blends.

It’s About Time: The Barbera Festival Scheduled

The Barbera Festival is scheduled 11 AM to 4 PM Saturday, September 16, at Terra d’Oro Vineyards and Winery in Plymouth, California. Nearly 80 wineries from all over California and beyond, including the Sierra Foothills, Paso Robles, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Livermore, Ventura County, Lodi and the Bay Area, will be pouring Barbera wines to more than 2,000 attendees. The event includes top area chefs preparing gourmet food, four tents of art and artisan crafts, and live music. Apparently this year other Italian varieties like Vermentino, Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and Pinot Grigio, are trying to crash the party. Tickets are $50 in advance.

Dry Creek Vineyard Celebrates 45 Years of Family Winemaking

On August 24, 1972, Dry Creek Vineyard Founder and California wine pioneer David Stare received the necessary permits to build the first new winery in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, following Prohibition. Founded in 1972, Dry Creek Vineyard paved the way for a renaissance of winemaking and viticulture in the Dry Creek Valley.  Happy Birthday!

City Winery Expands: 5th Location in Boston, DC Coming Later This Year

City Winery, founded in 2008 as Manhattan’s first fully-functional winery, restaurant, music venue and private event space, with locations in Chicago, Nashville, and Atlanta, will open its fifth location in Boston this October with a sixth slated for later this year in Washington D.C. Over 60% of the wine produced by City Winery goes into their eco-friendly on-tap system, which uses neutral argon gas. After 6-18 months in a barrel, the wine is transferred straight to stainless steel kegs rather than into the bottle. Tap lines automatically cool the wine to its optimal temperature, making the wine ready to serve.

City Winery guests are invited to enjoy the Barrel Room tasting bar and restaurant, where they can try house wines served fresh on tap, straight from the cellar. Tasting flights are offered to sample the many wines made in house, along with an award-winning wine list featuring over 400 wines from many of the top producers from all over the world.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Starrlight Mead: North Carolina Winery Visit

Mead, a honey-based wine, is experiencing explosive growth across the country. Would a trip to a North Carolina meadery be able to sweeten us up?


What Kind Of Wine Could This Bee?

A visit from family last week proved to be the perfect opportunity for some fun in the sun at Jordan Lake, not far from our digs in Fuquay-Varina, NC. After splashing in the water, overturning floats and enjoying a picnic lunch, we heard a crack of thunder.

The winds began to race gray clouds across the sky and a smattering of raindrops began to fall. We knew exactly what to do – we headed for the shelter of a nearby winery!

A short drive away from Jordan Lake is Pittsboro. Pittsboro is the county seat of Chatham County and the main street is lined with quaint shops and cool restaurants. There also is a music store where we picked up a second-hand banjo for a birthday gift.

Most importantly, Pittsboro has a nearby winery –a meadery to be more specific. Mead, wine made from honey, is quite possibly the oldest alcoholic beverage on earth. It’s typically made with just three ingredients, honey, yeast and water. The Greeks called it the nectar of the gods. One more bit of mead trivia – the origin of “honeymoon” goes back to the medieval tradition of drinking honey wine for a full moon cycle after marriage.

Seeing The Starrlight

The sky opened up and we made it to Starrlight Mead just in time. The meadery is owned by Ben and Becky Starr, who started as home mead makers. Their early batches got rave reviews from friends and in 2008 they entered a mead competition for fun. Their fun outing resulted in a “best of show” award as the best of 212 entries. In 2010 they opened their meadery in Pittsboro.

Becky hosted us during our visit – walking us through the various tasting options. There are 20 different meads on their tasting list. She noted that 80% of the people who visit Starrlight have never tried mead before. The number of meaderies in the state is small but growing – soon to be a half dozen.

The meads offered include traditional mead in the off-dry or semi-sweet versions, often with fruit juice added as part of the process. There are also some herb-infused meads as well as some fun seasonal meads, like the Rita mead, a mashup of mead and Mexican cocktail sweetened with Agave nectar. All Starrlight mead is made with North Carolina honey.

The Honey-Do List

With four tasters, we divided the tasting list and sampled most of the offerings. I started with the drier end of the spectrum, the off-dry Traditional Mead, Pear Mead and Blackberry Mead. Like wine, mead can be finished dry or sweet and anywhere in between, depending on when the fermentation process is halted. The more honey that is fermented into alcohol, the less sweet it is.

The off-dry Traditional Mead, to my palate, wasn’t as interesting as those with some fruit flavor added. The Pear Mead, using pear juice instead of water and barrel aged, was light and fruity. Becky termed the off-dry Blackberry MeStarrlight Meadad as their “fake red wine.” It was absolutely delicious and is oaked aged to boot. Rich in fruit flavors, the sweetness level is on par with a typical red wine.

Starrlight also has a semi-sweet Blackberry Mead and this is even better than the off-dry. It delivers a flavor explosion and is sure to create legions of mead lovers.

The flavor of the mead differs depending on the honey used. Starrlight has a Traditional Mead made with Sourwood honey from the North Carolina mountains. It has a curious sour note that leaves you wanting more.

For those with a sweet tooth, the Spiced Apple Mead, Starrlight’s best seller, is apple pie in a glass. This is a great mead to warm up on a chilly fall or winter night.

The Starrs love to experiment, and so they have no less than eight herb-infused meads. Our daughter loved the Lavender Mead. The Lemon Balm Mead tastes like herbal tea. I also tried the Ginger Mead, but my favorite of the herbals was the Nordic Blend Mead.

Nordic Blend is an improbable combination of mead, caraway, fennel and anise. This delivers a funky pumpernickel rye flavor – and I’m a big lover of pumpernickel.

Starrlight meads cost from $18 to $26 for a 750 ML bottle, a very appealing price. They also offer two reserve meads, Chocolate Orange Mead (aged for a year on coca nibs) and White Chocolate Raspberry Mead (sweetened with meadowfoam honey and aged on cocoa butter). The reserve meads are $45 for a half (375 ML) bottle.

Ben and Becky’s love of mead shines through in every bottle of Starrlight mead. Stop in for a sip and you’ll understand what the buzz is all about!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Touring Bordeaux and Loire By The Bottle

A recent Cellar 55 class focused on two premier French wine regions: Bordeaux and Loire. That’s a lot to cover, but as it turns out, we were quite thirsty!

Bordeaux & Loire Class at Cellar 55Unraveling The French Wine Mystery

Perhaps nothing is more enigmatic to a wine lover than French wine. Like most Old World countries, wines are labelled by their region – not the grape from which they are made. It’s up to the wine consumer to know the style and grapes that are used in a particular AOC (appellation d’origine controlée). France has one of the largest wine industries in the world, so it can be a daunting task. The rewards, however, are great.

Two of our favorite – but very different – French wine regions were highlighted by a recent class at Cellar 55 in Fuquay-Varina, NC, conducted by Certified Specialist of Wine Sara Doom. It was 50% education, 50% tasting and 100% enjoyable.

Bordeaux at Cellar 55Yes, There Is White Wine In Bordeaux

Bordeaux, in southwestern France, is among the world’s most famous wine regions. We dig it for the superb red Bordeaux blends, primarily driven by Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Oenophiles shouldn’t overlook Bordeaux’s white wines, though.

White Bordeaux wines are primarily Sauvignon Blanc, often blended with Sémillon. We started the evening with Barton & Guestier 2016 Bordeaux Blanc, an 80%-20% Sauvignon/Sémillon blend. We like B&G as a dependable pick for quality French wines on a budget – this bottle costs under $10. There are notes of citrus and vanilla in a refreshing glass. This has much less acidity than a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and we wished for a touch more.

We next “visited” St. Émillon, which is on Bordeaux’s Right Bank. Right Bank wines are dominated by Merlot, while Left Bank Bordeaux usually is Cabernet Sauvignon based. The 2014 Chateau Picau-Perna offers blackberry flavors and a bit of cola swirled with oak. There are some nice drying tannins. This retails for under $20 and would make a great partner for a lamb entrée.

The highlight of the evening for me was the 2014 Chateau Haut-Bailly La Parde de Haut-Bailly, a Grand Vin de Bordeaux from Pessac-Leognan on the Left Bank. This is a blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc. Deep ruby in the glass, it has luscious notes of cherry and graphite. There is a delightfully long finish and velvety tannins. Worth every cent of its $40 price.

What About Aging In Loire?

Loire WinesWe were ready to plunge into Loire, the region along the banks of France’s longest river. Loire is known for crisp white wines, light red wines and rosé.

There were a number of questions about oak aging in Loire. That’s natural, since we often picture barrels of French wines aging away in musty caves. Loire requires a different mindset. These are wines focused on light and fresh flavors – designed to be consumed within a year or two of release. You won’t find anything here to rival a heavily oaked Napa Cab.

We opened with a pair of whites: the Paul Buisse 2015 Touraine and the Marc Bredit 2013 Vouvray. The Touraine is a Sauvignon Blanc that spent two months on the lees. The Vouvray is Chenin Blanc and is demi-sec, offering some sweetness. Although we are fans of Vouvray, I wasn’t won over by this one. It was a bit sweet for my taste (but you may love it) and there was a slight musty flavor, not uncommon for Chenin.

Chinon is a “go to” wine for me when ordering wine for a board of directors dinner. Like Vouvray, Chinon is also in the Touraine region of the Loire Valley. Chinon wine must be at least 90% Cabernet Franc and is considered the most elegant red wine in the Touraine appellation.

We sampled the Vignoble du Paradis Clos de la Niverdiere 2016 Chinon. This is a light bodied Cab Franc, and didn’t have the peppery flavor found in some cooler climate regions. There were threads of earthiness, floral flavors and tastes of blueberry. It retails for $19.

Yes, indeed. There’s too much wine in Bordeaux and Loire to cover in an evening. Luckily for us, there is no rush. We suggest you begin your own tour of these great regions by picking up a few bottles. Thanks Sara and Cellar 55 for “schooling” us!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wine, Travel & Food News from Vino-Sphere: August 23, 2017

SantoriniA weekly round-up of news, notes and happenings

TEXSOM Best Sommelier Announced

Andres Blanco of Caracol Restaurant in Houston is the 2017 TEXSOM Best Sommelier. The 2017 TEXSOM Best Sommelier Competition, presented by Texas Monthly, takes place during TEXSOM, one of the most prominent and influential wine education conference in the United States, held annually at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas in Irving, Texas.

Blanco topped an impressive field of 26 other competitors in a rigorous three-part wine examination involving service, blind tasting and theory. An elite panel of Master Sommelier judges named Blanco the 2017 TEXSOM Best Sommelier. To participate, candidates must be a current resident of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, or Texas and must not have passed the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced Sommelier Examination.

Free Shipping on Dry Rosé

Sheldrake Point, an outstanding Finger Lakes winery, is offering free shipping on three or more bottles of dry rosé. Use promo code SIP SUMMER.

Museum of Broken Relationships 

Looking for a unique outing? Happen to be in Zagreb? Kutrubes Travel suggests you check out the Museum of Broken Relationships. This museum has been awarded the Kenneth Hudson Award 2011 for ‘the most unusual, daring and, perhaps, controversial achievement that challenges common perceptions of the role of the museums’. Sounds like an interesting place, and it is.Pouring Wine at Sunstone

BBQ Pork Ribs with Syrah BBQ Sauce

Grilling out this Labor Day. Check out this recipe from Sunstone Vineyards and Winery – one of the coolest wineries in Santa Barbara.

Speaking of Barbecue

The Montgomery Inn, a well-known barbecue restaurant near Cincinnati, is offering their Summertime Barbecue Bonanza that they say makes grilling healthy and basically foolproof. The Summertime Barbecue Bonanza consists of four slabs of the family-owned company’s hand-rubbed, USDA-inspected ribs, two pounds of pulled pork, two pounds of brisket baked beans, and a bottle of the original, sweet and tangy Montgomery Inn Barbecue Sauce and the newest addition to the family, the hot and spicy chipotle Barbecue Sauce to top it off. You can save $75 when you order online by using Promo code: summerfun and item #004BB

Winesong Weekend Coming to Mendocino

The 33rd Annual Winesong Weekend, a spectacular weekend of award-winning wine, fabulous food, fine art, music, merriment, and charitable giving held on the Mendocino Coast, will take place September 8th and 9th. Activities include a Pinot Noir Celebration, Wine and Food Grand Tasting in the Gardens, and silent and live auctions.

Harvest In Santorini

The harvest on the Greek island of Santorini is in full swing through the first weeks in September. Santorini is known for its deep blue waters, incredible sunsets and superb dry white wine. Greece’s most noble white grape, Assyrtiko, benefits from the volcanic soil. Learn more about Santorini’s winemaking tradition here.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Viewpointe 2009 Colchester Cuvée, Canada

Colchester CuveeThis wine from Lake Erie North Shore is Canadian to its core, utilizing three grapes developed in Harrow, Ontario. For the end result, you’ll have to read on…

A Different Viewpointe

One of the advantages of our former stomping grounds in Northwest Ohio is that you can easily pop across the border and visit Ontario wineries. Within an hour, maybe 90 minutes, you can be rolling up to a winery in the Lake Erie North Shore region.

A favorite stop of ours is Viewpointe Estate Winery in Harrow, Ontario. Viewpointe, befitting its name, has a panoramic view of Lake Erie. The light-filled tasting room is designed with plentiful windows to enjoy the scenery. The outdoor space is special too. As you can imagine, this is a popular destination for tourists or for wedding parties.

All the above wouldn’t be worth a hoot if the wine didn’t measure up to the classy surroundings. We’re happy to say it does.

Sustainability In A Bottle

Viewpointe is a member of the Southwestern Ontario Viticulture Roundtable and is focused on sustainable winegrowing practices, including experimenting with varieties with smaller ecological footprints. That experimentation led to the development of new, truly local grapes. The grapes, dubbed HG for “Harrow Grown,” were developed over more than 10 years by Viewpointe owner John Fancsy and local viticulturalist Peter Pfeifer, who were looking to develop a grape that would reflect the terroir of their home region of Essex County. The HG-1, HG-3 and HG-4 grapes are used in the creation of Colchester Cuvée.

The HG grapes are more disease resistant than other varieties typically harvested in Canada, giving Viewpointe and the other wineries who use them a leg up in the often difficult Canadian growing conditions. HG grapes haven’t yet been recognized by the Ontario Vintners Quality Alliance, so this bottle doesn’t carry the VQA designation – which is usually the sign of high quality north of the border.

Our Viewpoint On Viewpointe

When we arrived in our new home in North Carolina, it was high time to uncork this bottle. I really had no idea on the aging potential for this wine, but suspected that the we would soon be pushing the envelope on the drinkability window. On the nose this wine is savory, with scents of leather and meat.

Upon sipping, my reaction was, “this is really different than what I was expecting.” I had thought this would be a Cab Franc driven Bordeaux-style blend. The savory notes continued to lead the way, with ripe cherry flavors also coming through the deep garnet colored vino.

I see that a vintage 2010 Colchester Cuvée vintage was produced, but Viewpointe’s website doesn’t show any Cuvée after that. Perhaps it was all sold out or produced in limited quantities due to a couple of harsh winters we experienced up north (remember the Polar Vortex!).

I paid $17 Canadian – a good value in whatever currency you may use. This is an enjoyable bottle and we commend Viewpointe and our friends in Lake Erie North Shore for experimenting with new grapes. We can’t wait to see what’s next out of the laboratory!

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