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  • 2017 Maryland Wine Governors Cup Award Ceremony

    Posted: 2017-12-13 06:38
    "Agriculture is such an important part of our history, our heritage, and our economy," said Governor Hogan. "That is why it is in the best interest of our state to keep our farms growing and thriving, and that includes our vineyards and our rapidly growing wine industry. Our wine producers are doing so much for Maryland, and the Governor’s Cup competition brings together the best of the best among Maryland-produced wines." -- Maryland Governor Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr.


    The judging for the 29th Annual Maryland Governor’s Cup Competition took place August 13 where over 30 regional wine experts tasted over 150 different wines across the multiple styles of sparkling, whites, rosés, reds, fruit, and cider. This past Monday, December 11th the winners were presented their awards by Maryland's First Lady Yumi Hogan at Old Maryland Grill in College Park. This new restaurant focuses on Maryland sourced food and complements meals with a full range of Maryland craft beverages. In fact, Proprietor Mike Franklin also owns the long running Franklin’s Brewery not far away in Hyattsville and visited over 50 Maryland wineries to round out the cellar. These include many of the competition winners which noted Maryland wine expert and Lead Judge Al Spoler commented that this year's entry's were the best across the board. Based on the reception following the awards ceremony, I concur completely.



    Newcomer Cool Ridge Vineyard was the clear and unsuspecting champion of the competition where it was awarded two Best of Class medals for their Cool White 2016 ($21) and Cool Red 2015 ($32), with the later earning the Governor’s Cup Best in Show. Not bad for first time entrants. The red blend consists of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot and 15% Petit Verdot and is delicious. Simply delicious. Owner Gerhard Glocker was quite gracious and was just as proud of his Gold medal single varietal 2015 Cabernet Franc ($27). The winery and vineyard is located in Washington County near Hagerstown and there's no wonder that Old Westminster Winery sources their fruit for their Cool Ridge Vineyard, Limestone ($32) - a blend of 70% Grüner Veltliner and 30% Viognier.

     "The Jack Aellen Cup is a recent addition to the competition and specifically highlights fruit wine, cider and mead. The cup is named after Linganore Winecellars founder, Jack Aellen, who pioneered wines from fruit and honey in Maryland" . This year the winner was Great Shoals Winery Hard Plum 2016 ($16). Made from Japanese Shiro plums grown in Carroll County, the wine is made in a cider style - light bodied but plenty of flavor. Legally, its a wine since cider can only be made from apples or pears, but for all intents this is one fabulous cider. Move over Spencerville Red.

    The remaining Best of Class wines were equally impressive with the Big Cork Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2015 ($46). Tasty young, the wine will age nicely as the tannins mingle with the dark fruit. The Willow Oaks Craft Cider and Wine Gloaming NV (500ml $25) starts funky and tannic then transitions to sweet tartness from organic black currants; another newcomer that impresses. Black Ankle Vineyards Terra Sol 2016 ($30) is a late harvest Grüner Veltliner and a successful experiment as it is very clean with plenty of acids to balance the sugar. Finally, I was fascinated with the Boordy Vineyards Pinot Gris 2016 ($16). The wine is flavorful and weighty - both, according to Dr. Joe Fiola, the result of vineyard selection and not wine-making techniques (no lees or malo and fermented in stainless steel). Cheers to Maryland wine.

    Best in Show
    Governor’s Cup Winner: Cool Ridge Vineyard • Cool Red 2015 ($32) (Washington Co.)
    Jack Aellen Cup Winner: Great Shoals Winery • Hard Plum 2016 ($16) (Montgomery Co.)

    Best in Class
    Best Sparkling: Turkey Point Vineyard • Elk Neck Bubbly 2016 (Cecil Co.)
    Best White: Boordy Vineyards • Pinot Gris 2016 ($16) (Baltimore Co.)
    Best White Blend: Cool Ridge Vineyard • Cool White 2016 ($21) (Washington Co.)
    Best Rosé: Crow Vineyard • Barbera Rosé 2016 ($16) (Kent Co.)
    Best Red: Big Cork Vineyards • Cabernet Franc 2015 ($42) (Washington Co.)
    Best Red Blend: Cool Ridge Vineyard • Cool Red 2015 ($32) (Washington Co.)
    Best Sweet: Dove Valley Winery • Mr. Bentley’s Choice 2014 (Cecil Co.)
    Best Dessert: Black Ankle Vineyards • Terra Sol 2016 ($30) (Frederick Co.)
    Best Cider: Willow Oaks Craft Cider and Wine • Gloaming NV (500ml $25) (Frederick Co.)
    Best Fruit: Great Shoals Winery • Hard Plum 2016 ($16) (Montgomery Co.)
  • Say Hello to Xion and Pazo Cilleiro Rías Baixas Albariño

    Posted: 2017-12-09 13:26
    Looking for an alternative to Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc? Then check out Albariño from Rías Baixas, Galicia - situated in the northwest corner of Spain. The DO was created in 1980, but when Spain joined the EU in 1986 the DO was changed to simply Rías Baixas as EU laws did not recognize a DO named for a single grape variety. I don't know why. In order to be labeled Rías Baixas, the wine must consist of at least 70% Albariño - and with the amount of this grape grown, a rather easy goal. The denomination also permits six other types of wines which includes the Rías Baixas Albariño - 100% Albariño from any sub-region.

    According to Rias Baixas Wines, DO Rías Baixas 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 and was registered in 1996. Soils are 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. O Rosal also resides against the Miño River -- adjacent to the Atlantic. Because of the high rainfall and humidity grape vines are widely spaced and trained on stone pergolas and a wire trellis called a “parra".  These parras can reach up to seven feet tall, allowing breezes to prevent mildew and to promote even ripening. During harvest, workers must stand on grape bins in order to collect the grape bunches.

    Despite the high rainfall amounts,  Rías Baixas vineyards are blessed with ample sunshine - averaging over 2,200 hours of sunshine per year. This sunshine in conjunction with the cooler climate provides an environment for high natural grape acidity. Albariño wines are also known for their floral and mineral character, most likely impacted soil composition within Rías Baixas. The bedrock is primarily hard granite with a top layer of mineral-rich alluvial (a combination of clay, silt, sand and gravel) formed from deposits eroded from running water.

    Bodegas y Vinedos Attis Xion Albariño (Rías Baixas) - ($20) This wine displays the traditional combination of white fruit, citrus, saline and racy acids combined with an underlying texture. Albariño meets Sauvignon Blanc.

    Bodegas Muriel 2015 Pazo Cilleiro Albariño (Rías Baixas) - ($20) Produced from grapes grown in the Val do Salnés, this is a fresh and lively wine, plenty of citrus and weighty stone fruit, and balanced acids. Albariño meets Chardonnay.
  • More John Adams & Blandy's Madeira Wine - 10 Year Old Malmsey and Sercial

    Posted: 2017-12-06 20:53
    “I drank Madeira at a great Rate and found no Inconvenience in it.” — John Adams Diary 1774. Thursday. September. 22.
    The founding fathers sure enjoyed their Madeira, a fortified dessert wine produced in the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira. Our second President was extremely fond of this beverage and recently A Museum Just Uncovered 221-Year-Old Wine Meant to Honor John Adams's Presidency. One reason behind their affection for Madeira was that the wine was also able to travel long distances without spoiling. And in fact, the long sea voyages actually transforms the flavor of the wine by exposing it to heat and movement.

    One historical producer is Blandy's Madeira, a family owned winery that has been operating continuously for over two centuries. In 1989 they partnered with the Symington Wine Family to form the Madeira Wine Company (MWC).  MWC utilizes two maturation processes. The first is called Armazém de Calor where the wine is "stored in large wooden casks in a specially designed room outfitted with steam-producing tanks or pipes that heat the room, creating a type of sauna. This process more gently exposes the wine to heat, and can last from six months to over a year".  Second, during the aging process the wine is aged " in seasoned American oak casks in the traditional ‘Canteiro’ system, whereby the casks of this wine are gradually transferred from the top floors of the lodge, where it is naturally warmer, to the middle floors and eventually to the ground floor where it is cooler. During this totally natural ageing, the wine underwent regular racking before finally being bottled".

    I recently received samples of two Blandy's wines, both crafted using the "Canteiro" system and fermented using natural yeast which was halted after four days with the grape brandy fortification. There are several approved grape varieties for Madeira wine such as Tinta Negra, Sercial, Verdelho, Terrantez, Bual (Malvasia Fina), and Malvasia (usually Malvasia Branca de São Jorge).

    The first wine was the Blandy’s 10 Year Sercial Madeira ($30). The light copper color foreshadows a lighter bodied wine that does contain a surprisingly abundant supply of salty nuts and dried fruit followed by fresh acids. I envision a nightly apéritif.

    The second was their Blandy’s 10 Year Old Malmsey Madeira ($30). The wine is named after the vat of wine that the Duke of Clarence drowns in in Richard III. And it clearly satisfies the founders affinity for Madeira wine. Dried fruits is the initial dominant flavor, followed by raisins, nuts, and subtle chocolate. The sweetness is neither gritty or jammy and the tangy acidity balances the sugar seamlessly. A nightcap for sure. Cheers
  • More Spirits and Craft Beer in Ocean City, Maryland

    Posted: 2017-12-04 05:00
    This past Thanksgiving weekend provided an opportunity to re-visit the growing Ocean City Maryland craft beverage scene.  There are currently three breweries, two distilleries, and a winery in the surrounding area. That's not counting the wineries and breweries heading towards the beach along Route 50.

    The first stop was to Seacrets Spirits, an extension to the popular resort bar. It is the first distillery built in Worcester County since 1933 and offers an array of rums, vodkas, gin, and whiskey. In order to sample their spirits you must participate in the $10 hour long tour, but for those like me lacking the time, there's an ABC store in the parking lot. Initially I was interested in purchasing the whiskeys but the labels were very suspect, displaying "bottled in Ocean City", but not indicating where the whiskey was distilled or aged. Sounds like a MGP of Indiana product - which isn't an issue unless they hide that fact on the label. Instead I purchased a bottle of their top seller Spiced Rum, but aged on a limited basis in used Bourbon Barrels. The oak seems to subdue the spices and immediately I thought of eggnog. I hope the bottle lasts until Christmas.


    A dozen blocks north resides the Ocean City Brewing Company and OC Distilling Company. The later offers a Vodka whereas the former is a spacious sports bar with a game room and a plethora of craft beer options. I didn't get a chance to sample the vodka, but sampled several of the beers with mixed feelings. Some were rather uninspiring but I found success with their OC Lager, Route 50 Pale Ale, Buying the Cow Milk Stout, and Mad Scientist Pecan Pie Chocolate Stout. Fortunately there's a large enough selection for anyone to find a favorite. Isn't that the raison d'être for samplers?
    A visit to the Maryland beach must include a side trip to the Hallmark friendly town of Berlin and Burley Oak Brewing Company. This has been one of my favorite Maryland breweries for what, a half dozen years now? They are always solid, have a diverse variety of beers, and are friendly and engaging in the tasting room. Plus, dogs are allowed inside. A standard sampler includes six pours which gives visitors a chance to engage several styles. Here are the highlights. The Coffee N' Creme proves again that coffee flavored cream ales and kolsches are a great pairing. For sour lovers, the Burley Oak Jream series is a major winner courtesy of both their Blueberry Peach and Apricot Raspberry imperial fruited sour ales with lactose. Yet the standard Sour Chicky dry hopped sour hour was no slouch and the beer I brought home. Finally, try the Fudgy Slipper - a dark chocolate inspired pastry stout. I probably wouldn't drink more than a pint, but in small pours, a delicious beer. Cheers to Burley Oaks, Seacrets, and OC Brewing and as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to these destinations.
  • Bourbon Barrel Aged Wine with Barrel Road Red Blend

    Posted: 2017-12-04 21:05
    Bourbon barrel aging is standard practice in the craft beer world and this practice is slowly making its way into wine. Maryland's The Urban Winery Bourbon Aged Merlot was the first I tasted during the 2017 Winter Wine Showcase with satisfying results. Then recently I received a bottle of the Barrel Road 2015 Bourbon Barrel Red Blend ($16.99) from Wine Trees USA. This is a proprietary blend of grapes sourced from California's Central Coast and after fermentation aged three months in the once used bourbon barrels. The barrels are courtesy of Indiana's Backbone Bourbon who source their whiskey from MGP of Indiana. The short length of aging allows the wine to acquire subtle notes of vanilla and baking spices without hindering the fruit character of the wine. This is a quality wine at a great value - a hit for Thanksgiving. Thumbs up and cheers.

Featured Visit

J Vineyards & Winery; Healdsburg, California - Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Leaving Foppiano, we headed a couple miles south on Old Redwood Highway to J Vineyards and Winery. This winery was founded by Judy Jordan, whose family also founded Jordan Vineyard & Winery. J Vineyards is known for their sparkling wines so we were eager to visit. Entering the winery is also a bit confusing since they share a driveway with Rodney Strong Vineyards. Just look for the signs. The grounds and tasting room were quite impressive which created a new concern as we worried how they would react to our son being present. This concern quickly dissipated when our tasting represented pulled out a can of apple juice, animal crackers, and a miniature wine bottle filled with. Boy, is this winery prepared for children. Thank goodness. Although we don’t really get modern design and architecture – J Vineyards tasting room was comfortable – even with this style. The design behind the tasting bar was especially interesting.

With our son occupied with food and bubbles, we started tasting, beginning with the sparkling wines. These wines are made “Methode Champeniose” where they sit, not 2 or 3, but 4 years on lees. The result is awesome sparkling wine - tiny bubbles, fruit flavors - nice acidity. We tasted the J Cuvee 20 (in honor of their 20th anniversary), the J Brut Rose, and the 1999 J Vintage Brut. The last was our favorite, made from Russian River Chardonnay. These wines are slightly pricey ranging from $30-$50 – but well within the range for excellent sparkling wines. Changing to white still wines, their J Chardonnay Russian River Valley is one of the few oaked chardonnay wines that we have tasted. It’s creamy, with good texture – but not overly buttery. The fruit still dominates. Our favorite white was the J Viognier Alexander Valley. We tried both the 2006 and 2007 vintages and noticed several distinctions between the two which makes it interesting to taste a vertical series. The 2007 is fruitier with a vanilla finish, whereas the 2006 is creamier. Both are excellent.

Moving to reds, J Vineyards offers several Pinot Noirs, a Zinfandel, and even a Pinotage. The latter was a good interpretation of the variety. The wine was slightly smoky, but not to the extremes as made in South Africa. Sometimes with these versions you wonder if you are drinking a coastal Scotch. The Zinfandel was also different than the spicy versions made in Amador and Lodi – its fruit forward with a blackberry flavor and slightly vanilla finish. Finally, the Pinots were very good. The Russian River Pinot Noir is a blend from 5 vineyards and interestingly the nose is very peppery – but not the flavor or finish. Instead you get cherry. We next tried the J Pinot Noir Nicole’s Vineyard which our rep described as masculine and the J Pinot Noir Robert Thomas Vineyard which she described as feminine. We agreed with her assessment, but for some reason preferred the Thomas Vineyard version.

We ended our session by tasting the J Ratafia dessert wine; a blend of several varieties included Pinot Meunier and fortified with brandy. This is a great dessert wine – it tastes like peaches and apricots with a nutty finish. And this was one of only three wines that we purchased the entire trip. J Vineyards was extremely accommodating during our entire visit – which probably lasted over an hour and a half - just in the tasting room. If you are traveling to Sonoma with children, this is one winery you must visit. And for those without children, come to sample and excellent array of sparkling and still wines.

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