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  • Re-discovering Oakencroft Farm & Winery

    Posted: 2024-04-12 09:57

    After perhaps a 15-year hiatus we finally returned to the 250-acre Oakencroft Farm & Winery as the winery has re-opened and still making wine from some of the oldest vines in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The property is located just outside of Charlottesville and is a relaxing destination with estate and other wines available for purchase along with spreads and charcuterie. The winery first opened in the early 1980s under the ownership of Felicia and John Rogan -- who are considered one of the founding families of the modern Virginia wine industry. The winery closed in 2008 when Mrs. Rogan retired after 25 years in the industry. Over that period she worked with viticulturist  Lucy Morton to transform the Rogan farm into a Vineyard and Winery.  And most importantly, she spearheaded the effort to establish the Monticello AVA, started the Jeffersonian Grape Growers Society, and was chairwoman of the Virginia Wine Growers Advisory Board for a several years.  

    Even though Oakencroft Vineyard and Winery had officially closed, the farm continued to operate and the original grape vines were maintained.  A decade later Dorothy Batten purchased the farm and championed many of the sustainable practices currently implemented. One practice is the continued use of hybrid grapes (Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin, De Chaunac, and Merlot Kanthus) which provides broader genetic diversity and requires less pesticides and other chemicals. Former winemaker Phil Ponton spent 40 years maintaining the estate's vines and still shares his wisdom with current Farm Manager Logan Collins. This wisdom included combatting pests by using an integrated pest management system of beneficial plants, animals and insects as well as compost to reduce chemical sprays and industrial fertilizers. Jessica Trapeni is the current winemaker and came to Oakencroft after completing the UC Davis Winemaking Certification program and working at Virginia Wineworks where she was both Lab Manager and Production Manager. 

    During our visit we dabbled into two of their estate releases, their 2021 Albemarle County White Wine and 2020 Albemarle County Red Wine. Both were very pleasant expressions of Seyval and Chambourcin and easily pass as more traditional vinifera wines. The Seyval Blanc was fermented under cool temperatures and on its lees, which both preserved the fruit characters and added texture to the body. Lots of racy acidity and minerality. Production of the red wine was more complicated as it is a blend of 64% Chambourcin co-fermented with 11% Vidal Blanc, and the remaining 25% a combination of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine also has bright acidity and ripe cherries leading to very approachable tannins and a long finish. An easy sipper with charcuterie.

    The winery also offers several Virginia and international wines and ciders. On our next trip I would be interested in sipping the White Wine next to an Austrian Gruner Veltliner and the Red Wine with a Provence red. 

    Finally, the Monticello Wine Week runs from April 26th to May 3rd. Check the Monticello Wine Trail for specific events. 

  • Grape Spotlight: Sicilia DOC Grillo

    Posted: 2024-04-04 06:58

    "Beginning with the Greeks, who arrived on the eastern part of Sicily in the 8th century BCE, the idea of methodical grapegrowing practices for the purpose of quality winemaking firmly took root on the island. As the centuries passed, Phoenicians and Romans traded Sicilian wines based on their power and their distinctive qualities. The best vines were propagated, viticulture developed, and thus Sicilian wines were promoted on and off the island. Today, we see the fruits of these labors. Though many things have changed, most of Sicily’s indigenous grape varieties and time-honored winegrowing traditions continue to play an important role. Thanks to meticulous vineyard tending and gentle grape handling in Sicily’s wineries, Sicilia DOC wines feature the medley of flavors that Sicily has been known for since ancient times and which represent some of the best wines of Italy." -- Wines of Sicily DOC

    Sicily is Italy's southernmost wine region and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea It is blessed with consistently bright sunshine and reliably moderate rainfall, Sicily's classic Mediterranean climate is ideally suited to the production of wine grapes. This is because the warm, dry climate means that mildews and rots are kept to a minimum, particularly in well-ventilated areas that benefit from coastal breezes. This low disease pressure means that chemical sprays are hardly needed, and much Sicilian wine is produced from organic grapes.

    There are a number of denominations spread throughout the island with the broadest being Terre Siciliane IGT and Sicilia DOC. As of 2017, all varietal wines made from either Grillo or Nero d'Avola must be classified as Sicilia DOC.  According to wine-searcher.com, "Sicily's soils, and the mountains from which they came, are of particular interest when it comes to studying the island's viticulture. Mount Etna, the towering stratovolcano, dominates the island's eastern skyline, and is responsible for the mineral-rich, dark soils that characterize the Etna DOC vineyards. Vines are now being planted higher up on the volcanic slopes, to capitalize on the cooler air and richer soils there. Fifty miles (80km) south, the Iblei Mountains stake their place in eastern Sicilian wine. On their lower slopes and the coastal plains below them, the DOCs of Siracusa, Noto, Eloro and Vittoria sweep from east to west, forming a crescent that mirrors the arcing coastline. In western Sicily, the volcanic hills are less individually dramatic but just as influential to the soil type".

    Apparently the origins of Grillo are still being debated, but what is clear, is that this grape is well suited to the hot, dry Sicilian climate. Traditionally Grillo has been used in the popular Marsala fortified wines because of its high levels of sugar and the ease with which it oxidizes. More recently, winemakers have tuned their processes to use Grillo to make fresh, light white wine with nutty, fruit-driven flavors.  Some winemakers have started using lees contact to create deeper, fuller-bodied expressions of the grape, with aromas and flavors that resemble ripe citrus and spice. 

    During last month's Slow Wine tour in Washington DC, I attended the From Vine to Glass: Sicilia DOC's Native Varietals seminar sponsored by Wines of Sicily DOC.  This seminar featured a trio of very distinct Grillo wines.  

    Baglio Bonsignore "OI" Sicilia DOC 2022 Grillo
    The winery farms 13 hectares of grapes near Naro, in Southwestern Sicily, with four hectares planted with 10 year old Grillo vines.  The vineyards are planted at about 1,000 feet in limestone and clayish soils. We started with a very complex wine, tropical and nutty aromas that follows with loads of character. Fresh and mineral driven with some creamy depth.  

    Bagliesi "Terre Di Toto" Sicilia DOC 2022 Grillo
    The winery is also located near Naro and the estates are spread over twenty-five hectares in the province of Agrigento and also planted around 1,00 feet and similar calcareous-clayey soils.  This wine is a blend of  Grillo grapes from the estates and is leaner with bright green apples, slight grass, and salivating salinity. This is a patio consumer -- it won't last long.

    Di Giovanna "Helios" Sicilia DOC 2022 Grillo
    This winery is located in the mountainside of Monte Genuardo, a protected nature reserve and situated on the western side of Sicily,  They operate five family estates of almost 100 hectares -- composed of 65 hectares of vineyards, 14 hectares of olive groves, and 21 hectares of wheat fields and forests. These vineyards are  located in the small DOC of Contessa Entellina within the Sambuca di Sicilia DOC and most are planted on the limestone and ancient marine slopes of Monte Genuardo up to 2,700 feet above seal level.  This is an interesting wine, both refreshing and funky featuring  ripe citrus and spicy aromas and flavors. There's also significant structure with appreciable tannins and minerality on the finish. 

  • Open Road Distilling Opens in Reston

    Posted: 2024-04-01 16:50

    We've been trying to make the rounds visiting Mid-Atlantic distilleries and ventured to the closest to us -- Open Road Distilling in the Reston Town Center, Virginia. The establishment is part of a restaurant group and this location fields a tremendous restaurant and bar that is worth visiting just for the entrées. While developing cocktails for their bar and speakeasy-influenced concepts, they decided to develop a range of spirits which lead to the operational distillery, tasting room, and bonded store. Currently they have four expressions: in-house distilled American Vodka and American Gin as well as in-house blended Eagle Eye Rye and Independence Bourbon. 

    Eagle Eye Rye ($34.99)
    This whiskey is a blend of various casks obtained from distilleries across the U.S. - including MGP. This slightly spicy and approachable whiskey begs for a flask to enjoy in outlawing style.  

    Independence Bourbon ($34.99)
    The Bourbon is a blend of bourbons sourced from four distilleries within the United States and aged together after blending.  A pleasant firepit sipper with baking spices and soft tannins. 

    American Vodka ($19.99)
    This spirit begins as corn-based neutral spirit which is combined with pure water and then distilled in their traditional pot still. This is a very suitable vodka for all your bar needs. 

    American Gin ($23.99)
    This gin is crafted by first soaking botanical herbs (Juniper, Coriander, Angelica, Bitter Orange, Citron) in neutral spirits overnight, then distilled over a slowly increasing heat source . There is a nice balance between the London Dry profile and an American profile where the juniper and citrus are intertwined. 

  • Slow Wines Descent into Puglia

    Posted: 2024-03-29 07:00
    The Puglia Wine Region is a long, thin wine region in the far south-eastern corner of the "boot" of Italy. According to wine-searcher.com, "the hot Mediterranean climate, persistent sunshine, and occasional sea breezes make for a near-perfect environment for viticulture".  For this reason, over the past 2.5 millennium olives and grapes have been cultivated in this area regardless of the Greek, Roman, Goth, Byzantine Greek, German Lombard, Muslim Saracen, Norman, Angevin, Aragonese King, Spanish, French Bourbon, and Neapolitan Republic stewardship.

    In November 1995, Puglia vineyards were organized into the Puglia IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), a region-wide appellation for the Puglia region: the easternmost region in Italy, a long, narrow peninsula, bordered by two seas, the Ionian and Adriatic, with the longest coastline in the Italian peninsula.  This coastline is bordered by plains rising steadily up into low-lying mountains and is characterized by scrubby, sunbaked limestone soils, cooled down on summer evenings by fresh breezes from the Mediterranean. 

    Puglia IGT regulations allow for 50 grape varieties with an even split between red and white wine grapes. Northern Puglia favors Italian classics such as Sangiovese and international varieties such as Chardonnay and Syrah. In contrast, southern Puglia favors the region's traditional varieties: Primitivo, Negroamaro, Susumaniello, and Uva di Troia (Nero di Troia) for reds and Falanghina, Fiano and Muscat for whites.

    These wines were on display at a recent Slow Wine tour of the United States.  This is an organization with branches in the U.S. and Italy which "support and promote small-scale .. winemakers who are using traditional techniques, working with respect for the environment and terroir, and safeguarding the incredible biodiversity of grape varieties that are part of our heritage".  During their stop in Washington D.C., I was able to sample wines from four Puglia members that demonstrated the richness and depth from this area. 

    Amastuola Winery
    This establishment is located on the western side of south Puglia, close to Taranto and the Ionian sea. By design, the 100 hectare estate "brings together the two concepts of functionality and aesthetics. The rows of vines were planted on the basis of the design conceived by the great landscape designer Fernando Caruncho. The vine spaliers draw harmonious parallel waves that follow each other for about 3 km. The were also defined by their author himself 'waves of time that have been crossing this place since times immemorial'.

    In addition, 1,500 centuries-old olive trees have been rearranged in the 24 islands organically positioned throughout the entire surface of the vineyard as well as along the historic allays of the Farm. The olive trees used are the result of a historical-monumental recovery work. The CNR (National Research Council) of Perugia dated and filed a record of all the olive trees, some of which are 800 years old and have a diameter that exceeds 2.5 metres. The combination of olive trees and vines has created a harmonious visual contrast that brings alongside the silver green of the vines with the intense green of the olive trees".

    From this estate they produce over a dozen organic wines with several available at the event.  Primitivo is their flagship grape and is expressed through their CentosassiLamarossa, and Primitivo labels.  The Lamarossa may have been my favorite as its shared concentrated ripe fruit and silky tannins with the other labels, but had a more earthy quality. They also poured a bolder more tannic and spicier Aglianico as well as a delicious Negroamaro. Please seek Puglia wine made from this grape. 

    Cantina Sampietrana
    This winery was formed in 1952 as a cooperative by 68 vine-growers and is located on the Adriatic coast within the Brindisi and Salice Salentino DOCs, both designations dedicated primarily to the production of Negroamaro wines. The region is also both hot and dry and enjoys 300 sunny days each year with summer afternoon temperatures regularly surpassing 104 Fahrenheit. As a result, the grapes which grow here develop high levels of sugar which leads to a high percentage of alcohol in the wine.  Besides Negroamaro, the winery vinifies Primitivo, Susumaniello, Malvasia, Aglianico, Montepulciano, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Fiano and Verdeca.

    Negroamaro is a main player and "owes its name to its main characteristics: the almost black color of its wines and a bitter aftertaste. It has medium-sized bunches of conical shape, with tight density, of short size and without wings. The berries are large, very pruinose and with thick black skins with violet veins. Oval in shape, the berries are very leathery. Productivity is very high and must be limited with drastic pruning and suitable breeding systems, little expanded". It's beauty is shown in the Since 1952 Brindisi D.O.P. Reserva -- a blend of Negroamaro 80% and Montepulciano 20%.  This is simply a luscious wine. Negroamaro is also featured in the Settebraccia Salento I.G.P. Rosso, along with Susumaniello, that is fresher and very satisfying.  

    Primitivo was also on display in three offerings, the Tre Filari Salento I.G.P. Rosso, Centoare Primitivo, and Stillarosea Salento I.G.P. Rosato. Like with the Amastuola Winery, these wine show concentrated ripe fruit and silky - easy tannins. 

    Finally, the Verdeca Salento I.G.P. Vino Biblioteca is a refreshing saline driven wine with citrus and juicy acidity. This autochthonous and late ripening grape is now found almost exclusively in the Taranto and Bari provinces and is most known for its high acidity.

    Sacco Vignaiolo Apuli
    This winery is located in Torremaggiore in northern Puglia and whose underlying philosophy is Terra Mij or "My Land". This implies a deep respect for the territory and tradition first displayed by founder Vincenzo Sacco and now by his two sons Matteo and Alessandro. They maintain this respect by focusing on Nero di Troia - the indigenous grape of northern Apulia. This grape is more commonly referred to as Uva di Troia and is believed to have arrived in Puglia with Greek colonists in ancient times. "According to the legend, in fact, the Greek hero Diomede, once the Troia War (Trojan War) ended, sailed to the Adriatic Sea until he reached the Ofanto river and there, after he found the perfect place, he anchored his boat. Diomede brought with him some grapevines that, upon the banks of the Ofanto river, gave birth to the Nero di Troia grape.   It takes its name both from its polyphenolic properties, which gives it a deep ruby red color that sometimes may seem 'black', and from its historical origins."

    During this tasting they offered three expression from this grape. The Magis Nero di Troia is the premium offering - made from hand harvested grapes grown on very steep slopes. This wine has tremendous structure with balanced freshness. the Terra Mij Nero di Troia is even fresher with hints of spice - a very solid wine. Finally, they produce a rosè in the Unanotte Nero di Troia Rosè where the wine's pink color is extracted over one night (Unanotte). This is a lovely wine -- bright fruit and slight minerality. 

    On the white side, the Aleis Organic Falanghina stands out as a single vineyard source with fresh citrus and mineral characters. And the Terra Mij Organic Bombino White is an introduction to a new grape variety -- its obscureness probably explains adding White to the label. It's a blend with 30% Malvasia - aromatic with ripe fruit, minerality, and fresh acidity.  Bombino Bianco is most likely from Spanish origin but has found a home in northern Puglia, Abruzzo, Lazio and Emilia-Romagna.

    Conti Zecca
    The Zecca family has been farming estates in central Salento since 1580 when Francesco Antonio Zecca moved to Leverano. In 1884, Pope Leone LEO XIII bestowed the title of Count upon Giuseppe Zecca because of the family's role in developing the region. In the early 20th century the first bottles were produced and in the post War era, the cellar was modernized leading to the first Conti Zecca wine label: Donna Marzia. In modern times, they operate four estates all closer to the Ionian coast that cover 320 hectares of vines. They focus on Negroamaro, Primitivo, and both Malvasia Nera and Bianca.  The Nero IGP Salento Rosso is a dark rubied blend of Negroamaro and Cabernet Sauvignon which starts with a complex aroma of fruit and spice that leads to a structured wine with soft but firm tannins and a deep fruit profile. I just want to chew on this wine on a cool night on the deck. 

  • Rum in Richmond with Virago Spirits

    Posted: 2024-03-27 12:29
    In the last few months we've visited a plethora of distilleries focusing on rum where this spirit seems to be enjoying a new renaissance of discovery. While visiting Richmond for the Virginia Wine Gala, we ventured into Virago Spirits -- primary because of its proximity to Hardywood Craft Brewery in Richmond's Historic German Brewing District.  Upon entering the tasting room we went through a journey into rum while gazing all the while on their vintage, direct-fire, 2,500-liter Charentais-style alembic still. 

    Virago's slogan should be "slow-down" as they slowly distill their spirits using alembic still in  single distillation runs that take 12 hours and 48 hours for a complete distillation cycle (three ‘broullis’ distillations + one ‘bon chauffe’ distillation). This duration allows the distillery to separate out the crude portions of the distillate and to concentrate flavor. The flavor is also enhanced by the direct-fire nature of the still which requires an agitator that keeps the mash moving inside the pot. Without it, heat would be distributed too unevenly, and the mash could scorch. The distillery believes this "adds layers of depth and complexity of flavor". The distillery also slows the process by aging and finishing their rum in various oak treatments. 

    However, their flagship and most bartender friendly product is the 151 High Proof Rum. This spirit is made from double-distilled molasses. The touch of expected heat is offset by clean tropical fruits and a layered profile. They also offer a more traditional Classic White Rum at 80 proof that provides a similar flavor profile without the burn.

    We then moved into the Four-Point Rum section where this rum is a blend of four major rum destinations: Barbados (8-year-old rum, pot and column distilled, Jamaica (4-year-old rum, pot distilled), Nicaragua (5-8-year-old rum, column distilled), and Panama (6-year-old rum, column distilled). These individual rums are then blended in house to create a beautiful and complex rum - a sipping can cigar rum. This brand is then made even more complex by finishing in other used casks. The Cognac Cask Finished Rum rested for 15 months in freshly-emptied, 30-year-old Grande Champagne cognac casks which adds additional floral and tropical attributes from the nose through the finish. The Ruby Port Cask Finished Rum spent months in freshly-emptied casks of ruby port from Portugal’s Douro Valley which provides earthier and cherry fruit elements to the final rum. A fantastic series. 

    Finally, Virago Spirits releases several other gin, liqueur, and apple products such as a very delicious Pommeau and an Apple Brandy still resting. For gin, they offer the Modern Gin with Oolong Tea and the Kali Hibiscus Gin. Since most of their rums are available in the ABC system, I purchased a bottle of Ginjinha - Cherry Liqueur which strongly resembles the similar Portuguese liqueur.  Although the Virago version is made using  tart Montmorency cherries from Michigan and a secret blend of winter spices. Delicious. Also, look at the exceptional glassware they use to provide the flights. Little Libations material. 


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