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  • Craft Spirits Are Colonizing the District's Ivy City

    Posted: 2017-05-20 08:29
    The District of Columbia now hosts half a dozen distilleries, with all but one located in Northeast's Ivy City -- a warehouse district located between New York Avenue and West Virginia Avenue near Gallaudet University.  DCs oldest and most well known distillery, New Columbia Distillers, set up residency in Ivy City in 2011 where craft the popular Green Hat Gin.  Unfortunately during my Sunday visit, they were closed as well as One Eight Distilling. That was not the case for Joseph A. Magnus & Co and Republic Restoratives Distillery where I spent an afternoon sampling their spirits neat as well as in cocktails. The 5th distillery, Cotton & Reed, is actually right outside Ivy City as shown on the map. Download theCompass Craft Beverage Finder for exact locations.

    Joseph A. Magnus & Co is located next door and above Atlas Brew Works so give yourself ample time to visit both.  The distillery is based upon Jimmy Turner finding a hundred year old bourbon produced by his great grandfather Joseph A. Magnus. A new found interest in his family's distilling past led to a with to a partnership with "former Woodford Reserve distiller and Whisky Advocate Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dave Scheurich, American Distilling Institute Director of Research and whiskey blending pro Nancy “The Nose” Fraley, former Buffalo Trace Distillery VP and General Manager Richard Wolf, and Brett Thompson a co-owner of Alexandria’s Pork Barrel BBQ. (See this City Paper article.)  Along with The Gin Goddess, Nicole Hassoun, this team currently produces five spirits: one vodka, two gins, and two bourbons.

    During my visit I sampled these five spirits neat and enjoyed one of the cocktails from their Kentucky Derby themed May menu. Go For Gin brought back racing memories and is a tasty concoction of their Vigilant Gin, honey, lemon, and Rinomata - a new Italian aperitif from vermouth producer Giancarlo Mancino. Going neat, a tasting starts with the Royal Seal Vodka ($29, 80 proof) made from 100% corn grown in Virginia and distilled seven times. This spirit is very clean, smooth with a sweet texture that provides a mellow finish. The distillery offers two gins, the Vigilant Gin ($32, 84 proof) and Navy Strength Gin ($39, 114 proof), both infused with botanicals - a few grown in palettes strategically positioned in the sun facing tasting room. This first is a London-style Dry Gin that has a more citrus character and very mild; the second is a much stronger, 100% corn gin that grabs your attention but still remains smooth at the tail. Moving on, the two bourbons shined - although distilled and aged elsewhere the team created blends that are fantastic. The blend for the Murray Hill Club Blended Bourbon ($92, 103 proof) attempts to replicate the pre-prohibition Magnus bourbon and combines 18 year bourbon, 11 year bourbon, and 9 year light whiskey. The result is a fresh and spicy whiskey with both baking spices and pepper. Finally, the Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon ($92, 100 proof) is a straight bourbon whiskey aged in white oak and finished in Oloroso Sherry, Pedro Ximénez and Cognac casks. This process provides multiple flavors, a complex whiskey alternating between vanilla, nuts, and fruit. All told, a great tasting lineup.


    Moving on down road the one year old, woman owned Republic Restoratives Distillery is located right on New York Avenue NE with an inviting open air tasting bar where they stress a facility is just as much a craft cocktail bar as a distillery. Co-founders Pia Carusone and Rachel Gardner hired Master Distiller, Rusty Figgins to focus on bourbon but also leverage the Ivy City Gin phenomena. But first there's the Civic Vodka ($29, 80 proof), a corn-based vodka that is charcoal polished, a filtration process that provides a smooth and clean spirit. The Borough Bourbon ($55, 88 proof) is a Kentucky born whiskey (sourced until their own whiskey is ready) but then finished at the distillery in Sauvignon Blanc barrique casks. The result is a very smooth whiskey, drinking neat nicely with a little vanilla. My favorite. Finally, the Rodham Rye ($79, 90 proof) - guess who its named after - is sourced one-year-old rye and three-and-a-half-year-old rye from Tennessee. The distillery then cuts the whiskey to proof using Adirondack Mountain spring water from a maple syrup farm in upstate new York. The spicy rye expresses itself clearly, there's also a chewiness and long, complex finish. And enjoy a cocktail, mine was a concoction of honey, lime juice, and Borough Bourbon. Cheers. 
  • Locations White Wine: California (CA4) and Corsica (CORSE)

    Posted: 2017-05-16 18:34
    Dave Phinney's Locations portfolio continues to grow as the brand expands it's white wine offerings. The concept behind the Locations Wine brand was to "to produce a wine that pays homage to their home land without compromise and without boundaries" and may I add, at an affordable price point ($20 range). Currently there are nine red wines (France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, California, Oregon, Washington, and Texas) joined by two white wines: the inaugural California - CA4 and a sophomore release of Corsica - CORSE.

    CA4 - California White Wine ($19.99, 14.5% abv) - a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Roussanne from Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino to reflect the "diversity and potential of California". A portion of the fermented wine was aged in new French oak so expect a slightly buttery flavor. However, that sensation does not overwhelm the other attributes such as the bright lemon aroma and stone fruit and mineral character. And the acids provide a fresh finish. I'd prefer a little less oak, but this is a tasty wine nonetheless.

    CORSE - Corsican White Wine ($18.99, 13.7% abv) - 100% Vermentino and the label represents the shepherd's knife commonly used on the island. On this Mediterranean island wine production can be traced to 570 BC when Phoceans traders settled on the island. Even though Corsica is a French territory, its wine making traditiosn and wine grapes are Italian in origin. There are nine AOC regions with white wines composed primarily of Vermentino. This light skinned Italian grape variety most likely originated on the Italian island of Sardinia - located just south of Corsica. The Vermentino grapes used to produce the CORSE were sourced from "vineyards from steep, hillside slopes comprised of granite and red clay soils". The island's large diurnal change (temperature difference between the hot days and cool nights) allow the grapes to retain acids. This is an elegant wine with a complex floral citrus aroma and a fresh oily texture reminiscent of lemon peels. Expect a wet stone minerality and a clean refreshing finish. Nicely done.
  • The Summer of DO Rías Baixas Albariño Wine Begins Early

    Posted: 2017-05-11 16:50
    With at least four weeks scheduled at various beaches this will most likely be the Summer of Rías Baixas. These fresh, acidic, and minerally driven wines from the northeast corner of Spain (Galicia) are designed for shellfish and seaside consumption.

    The Rias Baixas region encompasses five distinct sub-regions. Ribeira do Ulla is the newest (formed in 2000) and is the most northern region. Val do Salnés is known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape. This is the original and oldest sub-region and it's fingers reach out into the Atlantic.  Soutomaior is the smallest of the sub-regions where the soil is light and sandy over granite bedrock. Condado do Tea (The County of Tea) is named after the river Tea, a tributary of the Miño River which separates the border with Portugal, and is the warmest and driest region. O Rosal also resides against the Miño River -- adjacent to the Atlantic.

    I seem to prefer wines from O Rosal but last week's Rías Baixas - Snooth tasting reinforced that diverse and delicious wines are produced in all regions (or at least the three regions that the tasting focused.  Here's a short rundown of the session's ten wines all worthwhile and very affordable.

    Sub-region: Val do Salnés
    • Condes de Albarei Albariño Rias Baixas 2015 ($15)
      Stone fruit on aroma, then bright and ripe tropical fruit and great acidity, plenty of salinity in the tail
    • Vionta Albariño Rias Baixas 2015, SRP: $15
      Strong floral aroma, creamy and weighty stone fruit wine, aged on lees, some hazelnut
    • Martin Codax Albariño Rias Baixas 2015 ($16.99)
      Has similar acidity but a fuller body as it sits five months on its lees. Interestingly this winery is a co-op of 600 family vineyards.  Ripe fruit and solid acids.
    • Pazo Senorans Albariño Rias Baixas 2016 ($25)
      Fresh citrus and saline with abundant acids; weighty from (60%) macerated on its lees
    Sub-region: Contado do Tea
    • Pazo de San Mauro Albariño Rias Baixas 2015 ($17)
      Creamy, more floral, riper fruit, less acidic and saline
    • Señorío de Rubiós Robaliño Albariño Rias Baixas 2016 ($18)
      Fresh and clean, tropical, slight bitterness on finish - great acids
    Sub-region: O Rosal
    • Valminor Albariño Rias Baixas 2015 ($18.99)
      Wet stone and minerals throughout, citrus aroma and tart flavor. Excellent.  
    • Bodegas Terras Gauda Abadia de San Campio Albariño Rias Baixas 2015 ($19.99)
      Top 2: nuttier, flinty minerality, herbs with dried apricot; fresh acids throughout
    • Altos de Torona Albariño Sobre Lias Rias Baixas 2015 ($14)
      For the price, the best value. Plenty of citrus, stone fruit, refreshing acids
    • Santiago Ruiz Albariño Rias Baixas 2015 ($20)
      A blend of Albarino, Loueiro, Treixadura, Godello, and Caino Blanco - all indigenous grapes to the region.  Fresh and intense hitting all the typical notes: floral, citrus, and stone fruits. And plenty of minerality and acidity. Top 2. 
  • Vinkara: Producing Superior Wine with Ancient Indigenous Turkish Grapes

    Posted: 2017-05-04 07:56
    "These are grapes that Noah's goats grazed on" -- paraphrasing Ardıç Gürsel, founder Vinkara Winery

    Ms. Gürsel discussed the plausibility of this statement while discussing her Turkish winery, Vinkara, at a luncheon last month at MXDC in Washington DC. Biblical Noah is referred to as the Father of Wine and religious  tradition maintains that wine-making was a divine gift in exchange for the struggles Noah encountered with the flood. With the winery located in central Anatolia and specializing in that region's indigenous grapes, it is quite feasible that Noah's goats fed upon the same grapes (or their parents) that the winery uses today. Gürsel also mentioned that there are conclusive traces of viticulture and winemaking in Anatolia going back seven thousand years, thus the region's indigenous 1,200 grape varieties have been used to create wine before and after the great flood.

    However, the purpose of Gürsel's visit to this country was not as an evangelist for Anatolia or Turkey specifically, or even the indigenous grape varieties, but as an ambassador showcasing the excellent wine being produced from her facility. The name Vinkara results from wine and its proximity to Turkey's capital - Vin (wine) Kara (Ankara).  The winery started operating in 2003 and is located approximately 65 kilometers northeast of the capital in the hills outside of Kalecik, a small village that provides the winery with seasonal workers during harvest. The location is ideal at two thousand feet above sea level, northern winds to dry the grapes and drive away bugs and birds, and the twenty degree diurnal temperature change allows the grapes to retain acidity.  One of these grapes is often the red Kalecik Karasi (pronounced kah-le-djic-ah-ser) - once on the verge of extinction due to neglect, but now Vinkara's signature local grape.

    During the lunch with Ms. Gürsel we sampled through a range of her wine which in general I found to be clean, intriguing, well made, and delicious. 

    2014 Yasasin ($40) was the first method champenoise wine produced in Turkey (the others used the Charmat method). It is made using Kalecik Karasi and is fresh with toasted almond bouncing through the dry and refreshing wine.

    2014 Narince ($18, nah-rin-jay), the name translates to "delicately", originates from the Tokat Province near the Black Sea, and is the offspring of Kalecik Karasi. Ms. Gürsel believes the grape may be the grandfather of  Pinot Noir. The intriguing aspect of this wine is easily it's texture (3 months on lees) which allows the stone fruit to seamlessly transition to fresh acids.

    2013 Narince Reserve ($27) . This wine sees 14 months in mostly neutral French Oak plus the winery holds the wine an additional six months after bottling. This process adds even more texture as will as a spicy character - but avoids the overly buttery character of many Chardonnays. And the finish is just as fresh as it's sibling.

    2013 Kalecik Karasi ($18). This red wine is unoaked which leads to an extremely smooth wine, with a bright cherry flavor and a slightly spicy finish. This is the equivalent to an All Day IPA - I could enjoy this wine at any time during the day.

    2012 Kalecik Karasi Reserve ($27) . This wine spends 14 months in oak and is a caramelized version of it's companion with much more depth. It's an excellent wine - actually a special wine with a very unique profile. 

    2013 Okuzgozu ($23, ookooz-goo-zoo). The grape is native to Eastern Anatolia and it's black berries resemble a bulls eye - hence the name's translation.  This wine had the most character - as in being a character.  It is approachable and smooth yet the very unique tannins and acids seem to play tricks on the palate.

    2011 Bogazkere Reserve ($30, bow-aahz-keh-reh). The grape's name translates to "throat burner" but don't equate that sensation to the wine. It is fantastic: dirt and pepper aroma followed by fresh fruit but solid tannins. Structured from start to finish. The wine was aged 30 months oak with the winery taking an additional two year hit holding back in the bottle. My favorite of this collection and one to target immediately. Cheers.
  • Rías Baixas Albariño: "The Number One Alternative to Chardonnay"

    Posted: 2017-04-30 20:29
    "Albariño is the number one alternative to Chardonnay and, in fact, it may be my favorite white wine", Mark Oldman

    Mr. Oldman shared this sentiment at the Succotash Restaurant in Washington DC as Wines of Rías Baixas attempts to raise the profile of Albariño from the Galicia region of northwestern Spain. Last month they sponsored The Tastemakers Table, where "top sommeliers and wine experts teamed up to challenge palates showcasing the versatility of this Spanish white wine".  After attending the Succotash event I also received samples of the 2015 Lagar de Bouza ($18) and the 2015 Marques de Vizhoja Torre la Moreira ($17).  Whereas the exact nature of  Rías Baixas Albariño depends on which micro-climate the grape was grown, both of these wines share the common characteristics that make all Albariño an excellent and versatile wine: minerality and bright acids. Absolutely try these two wines.

    The next Rias Baixas sponsored event occurs this Thursday May 4th during the Snooth-Rías Baixas Virtual Tasting at 8:30 PM ET. Snooth’s co-founder Mark Angelillo will be joined by Advanced Sommelier Jill Zimorski to discuss ten of the region’s premier Albariño wines.  I suspect they will also be discussing the five distinct sub-regions as well as the unique trellis system and marine influences. So grab a bottle of Albariño and join the discussion. Cheers.

Featured Visit

Glades Pike Winery; Somerset, Pennsylvania - Saturday, November 29, 2008
While driving from Somerset to Seven Springs Mountain Resort we've always passed Glades Pike Winery on Route 31, but have never stopped in. Until this past weekend. We won't pass the winery without stopping in again. Glades Pike has been open for almost 15 years and makes unique wines that are very characteristic for Pennsylvania wineries.

We started with the 2008 Norton made from grapes grown at famed Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg Virginia. The wine was one of the best young Norton wines we've tasted. It wasn't acidic or overly jammy - like many Nortons that haven't had a chance to age in the bottle. Instead it is very smooth with a cherry flavors and an honest chocolate finish. We also discovered an interesting note on Pennsylvania labeling laws while examining the bottle. Even though the grapes for this wine were sourced from Virginia, Glades Pike can label it Pennsylvania wine since more than 85% of the grapes came from within a 380 mile radius from the winery. Interesting.

Since Glades Pike offers nearly twenty wines we skipped the vinifera reds (Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon) and chose instead two hybrid reds: the Baco Noir and DeChaunac. Might as well try something different. Both of these wines are very smooth with low tannins. We preferred the Baco Noir, with its fuller flavor and where the tasting notes were completely accurate. We tasted each fruit listed: the black cherry, raspberry and red currant. In order to satisfy the market, the winery produces a few semi-sweet and sweet red wines. The Glades Pike Red is a semi-sweet blend of the Baco Noir and Concord. The Concord contributes the strong grapey aroma whereas the Baco Noir provides the full bodied flavor. Probably without attempting, they've created a nice eastern European styled wine. For those with even a sweeter tooth there is a varietal Concord. And the best selling wine is a sweet blush - the Bicentennial Blush - made from Concord, Niagara, Cayuga and Vidal.

Turning to whites, Glades Pike produces a dry Chardonnay and dry Seyval Blanc but we preferred their off dry Riesling and Vidal Blanc. Both have nice acidity that provides a refreshing finish. The Vidal is more citrus while the Riesling possesses the standard flavor associated with the grape. Another off-dry option is the Mountain Mead, made from local honey. We liked this style - not too sweet and can envision blending with Apple wine to produce our own cyser. The winery also produces a varietal wine from one of our favorite labrusca grapes - Diamond. Theirs is made sweet and contains a hint of the labrusca foxiness - but more citrus. There's another sweet labrusca - Niagara - which reminds us of the white grape juice our son guzzled years ago.

Finally, Glades Pike wouldn't be a Pennsylvania winery without an assortment of fruit wines. Spiced Apple seems to be a state favorite, but the Black & Blue is ours. Just Blackberries and Blueberries. On occasion the winery produces a Raspberry wine, but currentlythey offer a Montmorency Cherry - served with chocolate.

For those traveling to ski from the West or who don't want to drive the 15 minutes from the resort, Glades Pike opened a tasting room a hundred yards from the Seven Springs entrance. This could be a perfect break from the slopes or when the kids are participating in Tiny Tots. We enjoyed the Norton, Baco Noir, and Vidal after skiing. With twenty wines to choose, we are sure there's something for everyone.

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