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  • Grape Spotlight: Etyek-Buda Szentesi Kadarka

    Posted: 2023-03-24 16:38

    The Etyek-Buda PDO has many unique characteristics regarding Hungarian wine regions. It is very small (1,652 hectares of vineyards) and the closest to Budapest -- located just over the Buda Hills and extending southwest to Lake Velence (Hungary’s second largest lake) near the former royal city Szekesfehervar and southwest to the slopes of the Gerecse hills.  The climate here is influenced not by one, but by three geographical features; the Alfold plains to the south, Lake Balaton to the west, and the mountain winds from the Carpathians to the north. These winds help make this one of the coldest climate regions in Hungary with an average temperature of 9.5° to 10.5° C (49° to 51° F).  The soils are predominately limestone and these rolling hills have historically been planted with international varieties used in sparkling wine production: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Yes, even Sauvignon Blanc is used to produce Asti-like sparklers. Törley, Hungary’s largest sparkling wine producer, has been producing sparkling wine from Etyek-Buda grapes since 1882.  

    Szentesi Pince is another producer utilizing grapes from this area and more importantly, József Szentesi has been instrumental in re-introducing older grape varieties lost during the phylloxera scourge in the late 19th century back to the region. In 1988, "after studying 19th-century viticultural and oenological works, he decided to plant 10 forgotten white and blue grape varieties. He requested canes from the Viticulture and Wine Research Institute of the University of Pécs and began propagating and planting the varieties around Lake Velence".  Today this endeavor has expanded to 30 grape varieties planted on 14 hectares of vines. According to the winery, and common sense suggests, that "experimenting with nearly 30 varieties is extremely challenging since in each vintage you have to hit the right harvest time exactly thirty times, you have to process thirty distinct grapes, and you have to deal with thirty different wines separately".

    That being said, although the planting of Kadarka declined after the phylloxera epidemic, it is still grown in many parts of Hungary and remains a beloved and historically popular grape variety. The grape is temperamental and susceptible to grey rot difficult to fully ripen. It was most likely introduced to Hungary from the Balkans and is best known as one of the components of the Eger region's Bull's Blood blend.  From Eger, Kadarka wine can be dark, relatively tannic, and weighty. Not so from Etyek-Buda. 

    I purchased the Szentesi Kadarka 2020 ($27.90) through the Taste Hungary wine club and their shipment of  Szentesi’s Grapes from the Past. This Kadarka is from old clone vines from the Nadap vineyard planted in 1988. József's low intervention approach meant a natural fermentation and after one year of aging in neutral oak, bottled unfiltered.   The result is an elegant light to medium-bodied wine with crisp red fruit, gentle and approachable tannins, and fresh acidity. 

  • Grape Spotlight: IGP Peninsula de Setúbal Castelão from Casa Ermelinda Freitas

    Posted: 2023-03-17 15:11

    I'm not sure how I came to obtain this 2021 Vinho Regional Peninsula de Setúbal Vinha Da Fonte Reserva from Casa Ermelinda Freitas but seeing it in the cellar reminded me of our past trip to Portugal and exploring the areas surrounding Lisbon. This is a large, one-hundred-year-old family winery, currently led by Leanor Freitas, where 60% of their vineyards are dedicated to the Castelão variety. This is a dark-skinned grape that is especially suited for the sandy soils along Portugal's southern coast which includes the Setúbal Peninsula across the Tejo estuary.  The climate in Setúbal is distinctly Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and a majority of rainfall concentrated into the mild, winter months.  This sandy soil is rich in moisture which, along with the surrounding river and ocean breezes, refreshes and rejuvenates the vines during the dry summers. 

    Leanor Freitas is the 4th generation female to oversee the company. "The winery was established in 1920 by Leonilde Freitas, continued by his granddaughter, Germana Freitas, and later by his great-granddaughter, Ermelinda Freitas, to whom Casa Ermelinda Freitas owes its name. With the premature death of her husband, Manuel João de Freitas, Ermelinda Freitas continued to manage the company with her only daughter, Leonor Freitas".

    The vineyards of Casa Ermelinda Freitas are located in Fernando Pó of ​​the Palmela* region and began as 60 ha of only two varieties: Castelão and Fernão Pires.  Leonor Freitas introduced a range of new varieties, such as Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional, Aragonês, Syrah, and Alicante Bouschet, so that today, the winery farms 550 hectares of vineyards of 30 different grape varieties. 

    The 2021 Vinho Regional Peninsula de Setúbal Vinha Da Fonte Reserva is a blend of five grape varieties with Castelão and Cabernet Sauvignon as the dominant players. The percentages are followed by Touriga Nacional, Syrah, and Alicante Bouschet.  It carries the Vinho Regional Peninsula de Setúbal designation which is the former name for the new Peninsula de Setúbal IGP. The grapes are fermented in stainless steel vats and aged for 9 months in French oak separately before blending.  This is a very intriguing wine, ripe fruit and yet rustic, with hints of wood and approachable tannins.  Give me a plate of sausages at an outdoor Lisbon street fair. 

    *Palmela has its own DOC which primarily covers red wines made from Castelão.

  • Old Growth Orchard Ciders from British Columbia's Lonetree Cider

    Posted: 2023-03-13 07:22
    This month I received three ciders through the BevFluence® New Perspectives on Cider, Perry, and Brandy campaign that's from an interesting source. These are Canadian ciders, and more specifically, old-growth orchard ciders, from Lonetree Cider.

    Lonetree Cider is located in British Columbia and was introduced to us through Cider Canada / Cidre Canada. They use solely B.C. grown fruit from family orchards within the Kelowna region of the Okanagan Valley. In fact, their grower cooperative is composed of 500 family orchardists who may have had to uproot the orchard in favor of more lucrative vineyards if not for Lonetree. and these ciders help subsist these orchards. The cidery also chose to emphasize the Old Growth aspect of these orchards as the label signifies that many of these trees are over 80 years old.

    Authentic Dry Apple Cider
    This dry cider is made from a blend of old-world cider apples, such as Belle de Boskoop and Bramley, then fermented with table apples; MacIntosh, Spartan, and Golden Delicious. I was planning on sipping with a shot of Campari, as is my usual custom with dry ciders, but the cider was so flavorful I didn't want to waste the savory contents. 

    Apple Ginger Cider
    This cider is made from apples and real ginger and this Ginger Cider is intense. Intensely ginger. Which translates to "let's use as an ingredient for a cocktail". One of my favorite cocktails calls for equal parts ginger beer and grapefruit juice with a healthy dose of pitorro rum. Tonight I used the Ginger Cider and the earthy Three Rum Estate Rhum Agricole from Louisiana. This makes a funky and refreshing cocktail. An old-growth, cane-to-glass cocktail.

    Apple Rhubarb Cider
    Apples and rhubarb. Now, being from the Mid-Atlantic, I'm really not sure what rhubarb tastes like. What I can say, is this cider provides a tasteful combination of apples and red berries with tartness and acidity to lift the sugars. And it does pair nicely with Buc-ees Cherry Maple beef jerky. 

  • Sage Bird Ciderworks Pommeau and Ashmead's Kernel for #openthatciderbottle

    Posted: 2023-02-25 10:17

    When I heard that the American Cider Association's Open That Cider Bottle was returning on February 25, 2023, I leveraged a trip to Harrisonburg to visit Sage Bird Ciderworks and see what would be a  worthy cider to open that night. I love this cidery's Age Old Apples series showcasing heirloom apple varieties and have written previously about their Harrison and Virginia Hewe's Crab ciders.  Black Twig and Dabinett were two other ciders in the heirloom series but I decided on a new apple variety to me: Ashmead's Kernel. 

    Ashmead's Kernel is an old English russet apple that originated from a seed planted around 1700 by Dr. Thomas Ashmead in Gloucester, England. The apple is lumpy, misshapen, and rather small with green and golden-brown skin, and a distinct crisp, nutty snap.  Interestingly, Ashmead's Kernel is one of a few apple varieties from the Old World that succeeded in the New World.  "When the first settlers arrived in North America they brought with them tried and tested varieties from Europe, yet few adapted to the very different climates of North America and most of the early successful American apple varieties were chance seedlings that evolved in America.  However Ashmead's Kernel did thrive, and today holds a position of respect on both sides of the Atlantic..". -- Orange Pippen

    The tasting notes from Sage Bird Ciderworks remark that the Ashmead's Kernel is dry and tart with a moderate body and crisp finish. Notes of champagne, citrus, ripe apple, and green grape. Check back after the 25th for our descriptors. 

    I also noticed that Sage Bird produces a pommeau and had to include that in Open That Cider Bottle. Pommeau is a French-inspired cordial that’s made by blending unfermented cider with apple brandy (traditional Calvados).  The percentages are usually two-thirds apple must (unfermented apple juice) to one-third apple brandy in order to ensure that the resulting mixture has 16–18% alcohol by volume (abv). The potion is then usually finished in oak for at least one year. 

    Long Night is their winter pommeau made from a light fermentation of a blend of Harrison and Dabinett apples and eau de vie (un-aged brandy) distilled from their Dry River Reserve distillery. According to the cidery,  the blending "arrests fermentation, leaving a naturally sweet yet high alcohol and stable mixture. We then age this mixture in freshly-dumped bourbon barrels from A Smith Bowman in Fredericksburg for a minimum of 12 months. The result is a wonderfully complex fortified dessert apple wine. Strong notes of stewed apple, butterscotch, caramel, vanilla, berry, and brandy on the nose and palate with a natural assertive sweetness, balanced tannin, and warming alcohol".  Can't wait to open it. 

    Check back next week for updates on Open That Cider Bottle and hope to see these and other ciders participating in the BevFluence New Perspectives on Cider, Perry, and Brandy campaign.

    Update: The Ashmead's Kernel is very dry and tart and sour. Not a lot of tannins, just fresh acidity, and limes & mint. A bit funky.  The Long Night is beautiful with fresh juicy apple juice complimented by a fuller brandy-driven profile with a lengthy satisfying finish. 

  • Five Takeaways from CiderCon 2023

    Posted: 2023-02-14 20:25
    The American Cider Association's CiderCon 2023 took place in Chicago from February 1st through the 3rd and the event offered "a full range of educational sessions covering topics that included cider production, marketing, sales, branding, sensory evaluation, compliance, business strategy, and orcharding". We attended several of these sessions as well as the trade show, a tasting organized by the New York Cider Association, unofficial cider shares, as well as visiting a couple of local craft beverage establishments. Here are our five takeaways from the conference.

    Consistent and Systemic Approach to Tasting Cider
    Cideries and reviewers should create a systemic approach to both cider tasting and descriptors as advocated by Richie Brady in A Proposal for a Systematic Approach to Tasting Cider. In other words, the industry should use a consistent method of describing the aromas, flavors, and structure of cider. This consistency involves focusing on the liquid in the glass, preferably in a blind fashion, without any preconceived expectations. Evaluate the Aroma (light, medium, pronounced), Flavor (in terms of major categories -- green, stone, citrus, tropic, red, and black fruit and then secondary flavors due to fermentation methods and oak treatments), and Structure (intensity, sweetness, acidity, tannin, length, and complexity). Finally, use descriptors that consumers understand. Barely anyone knows what cassis tastes like so use a more common alternative. An example that Brandy provided is "Lightly sparkling, sweet and vibrant cider with pronounced flavors of stone and tropical fruit, fragrant flowers, sweet vanilla, and caramel. Long and complex finish".

    Fire Blight
    Apple and pear orchards are prone to numerous pests and diseases not unlike grapevines -- such as a shared threat from powdery mildew and deer. At the conference, I also heard orchardists discuss groundhogs, rabbits, squirrels, and various insects but it was during The 4 Components of Flavor: Orcharding for High-Flavor Fruit seminar presented by Stina Booth that I first heard of Fire Blight. This is a bacterial illness that affects fruit trees and thrives in hot, humid climates, usually appearing in the spring and declining as dryer summer temperatures occur. The bacteria infects trees undetectably in the fall or winter, hiding in branches and unopened buds. Then in the spring, it begins to emerge through openings in the branches and foliage and becomes apparent. Unfortunately, fire blight is very difficult to treat effectively, and overusing certain bacterial sprays can cause the tree to develop resistance to treatment. The best way to fight fire blight is prompt pruning and sanitizing tools. --

    Chicago Cider Scene
    The conference coincided with Chicago Cider Week and two urban cideries hosted several events and were accessible during the conference. The Right Bee Cider Semi-dry Cider was available at a couple of spots at the host Chicago Hilton hotel and was a clean cider sweetened with honey from their own beehives. Their Dry Cider was also poured during an unofficial tasting and as I recall packed plenty of flavors. I was able to visit Eris Brewery and Cider House where the brewery is located in a historic old masonic temple that was renovated in 2018. I started with the Eris Cherish, a cherry cider produced in collaboration with Sleeping Village and the CIVL Foundation where the proceeds go towards providing music venue workers access to mental health awareness. I also turned to another collaboration, this time the Eris Apfelort which is a dry cider aged in used Jeppson's Malört barrels from CH Distillery. I had read about this wormwood-based digestif and how CH Distillery had purchased this "astringent and notoriously bitter 70-proof liqueur". The cider is neither and provides apples up front and subtle wormwood and a strong grapefruit finish.

    Cider is North American
    Just by casually talking to attendees it's easy to see that cider is produced throughout North America. We met producers and orchardists from north Georgia to Manitoba, across Canada, and from Nova Scotia to San Diego. I stood in line with a startup producer from Orlando and a representative from Bold Rock. I sat at tables with producers from Wisconsin, Oregon, and Tennessee and shared Michigan cider with the same from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio. The New York Cider Association hosted a tasting showcasing Empire State producers from the "Niagara Frontier to the Finger Lakes to the Catskills to the Hudson Valley to Long Island and to New York City". During unofficial cider shares, I sampled excellent cider from Washington State and Washington DC as well as from to. And my favorite cider of the week came from Greenbench Mead & Cider in St. Petersburg, Florida with their Giants in the Sky (Fresh-pressed Kingston Black, St Edmund's Russet, Pioneer, and Wickson Crab apples, wild-fermented in oak with native yeast.).

    Cider is for Everyone
    This is the official theme of the American Cider Association but is also a true statement based on industry analysis presented in the Alcohol Beverages and Cider: 2023 and Beyond and More Than a Beverage: Cider Category Performance sessions. Presenters from both sessions showed industry and consumer data beneficial and discouraging for the cider industry. First, the total per capita consumption of ethanol has remained relatively constant for the past 20 years with beer being the largest, albeit, slowly declining sector. The volume of cider sold peaked in 2016 and slowly declined since - losing market share and shelf space to Hard Seltzers and to a lesser extent RTDs. The good news is that the average alcohol consumer is becoming "Omnibibulous" a term created by Bart Watson, the Head Economist of the Brewers Association to describe how consumers are more "able and likely to drink almost anything (alcoholic)". And this group will continue to grow as younger consumers continue to experiment, and on the other hand, the baby boomers move into more leisurely lifestyles. Other facts based on consumer studies point to avenues where cideries can focus to attract customers. These studies show that 54% of all consumers have made a purchase in-store of a brand they first tried at a restaurant and 1/3 of cider consumers prefer a sweet version. Some ideas to consider. - a Tradex Consulting company
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