Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Phelps Family Christmas Eve Wine Tasting

The Phelps family decided to have a wine tasting on Christmas Eve as a gift between the 6 of us. We have all taken to the wine and food pairing challenge so this seemed like a lot of fun and a great gift at the same time. Here is what we assembled:

• Ayler Kupp altenhofchen Riesling Kabinett 2007 with marinated Strawberries & Gold Rush Bars
• Coppola Sophia Blancs de Blancs Sparkling with Brie
• EOS Moscato Dessert Wine with Goat Cheese
• Voga Italiano Pinot Grigio with Prosciutto wrapped Cantaloupe
• Connecticut Valley Winery Raspberry Dessert Wine with Blue Cheese
• 2009 Ancient Fire Amarone #2 with Parmigianino/Reggiano Cheese
• 2006 Beringer Knights Valley Alluvium Blanc with Goat Cheese & Smoked Salmon Pate
The Riesling and strawberries were left for the dessert course, so back to that in a bit.

Each of us introduced our wines and foods, talked about what we were aiming for and suggested any tasting procedures specific to the selection.

Dessert wines and cheeses of strong character are generally matches made in heaven. With two wine options and several goat and blue cheeses to try, we all spent some on those from the start. The EOS Moscato was incredible with both the goat and blue cheeses, and was the standout for me.

The Sophia Blancs de Blancs was stellar but not surprising as many small batch sparklers from the US don't get nearly enough attention. This one is even more unusual in that it is made from all white grapes where most are made from a blend or red grapes. The real kick with this selection was the cocktails we made with the marinated strawberries and syrup the next day.
The Connecticut Valley Raspberry dessert was very flavorful although not as sweet as I expected. It paired well with the pungent blue cheese as was expected and it also paired very well with the goat cheese. While we weren’t disappointed we aren’t sure the wine was as true to its style as it could be.

We discovered the Voga Pinot Grigio on a trip to Montreal. We had bought it at SAQ and took it to a wonderful BYO restaurant, L'Acadamie, for dinner along with an Amarone. The melon wrapped with salty meat was an initial question mark for me not being a melon lover. In the end the melon flavor was in good balance and the freshness of the whole package succeeded. I went back for more which I would have bet against when it was introduced.

The salmon pate, though not tried by all, was a hit with those that paired it with the Beringer Alluvium Blanc. The smoky flavor of the pate really set the stage for the smooth and oak influenced flavors of the wine. Even Margot, who was skeptical of the pairing, commented that the two went together well. Donna expressed some surprise that I brought smoked salmon anything as I have not historically been a fan. She of course loved it being more familiar with smoked salmon.

The Amore went well with the hard cheese purchased for the pairing but many preferred having it with the blue cheese originally meant for the dessert wine.

For dessert we indulged in the Ayler Kupp altenhofchen Riesling with strawberries marinated in the wine, and gold rush bars which are like a brownies with dried fruit and spices instead of chocolate. This was a perfect way to end the parade of different flavors and textures. With manageable sweetness the strawberries and bars allowed the medium dry wine to dance with them and enhance their characteristics. It was at this time we found the marinated strawberries and the sparkling wine made a great cocktail to cleanse the palate.

With this experience in hand it is clear that for those looking for something fun to do challenging themselves to a food and wine pairing should provide immense enjoyment.


Holiday Wine Dinner

So Julie, Margot, John and I sat down to a nice holiday dinner on the 18th. This month was our turn to host. The menu and pairings are below. Not everything turned out as planned but we sure had some laughs over it.

Black Currant Dessert Wine
Mixed Apple Salad with Maple Caramel Drizzle paired with 2007 Hard Cider
Cider & Pepper Marinated Steak Tips Wrapped in Lettuce paired with 2007 Hard Cider
Cranberry & Cola Slow Cooked Lavender Pork Chops
Baked Stuffed Apples with Apple Cornbread Stuffing served with 2009 Pinot Noir
Apple Crisp served with 2007 Vidal Ice Wine

We also tried a Cabernet/Foch from an up and coming NH winemaker. We found it to be a bit fuzzy, but with great flavor. The wild Foch presentation was easily found.

The maple caramel drizzle was candy by the time it got to the table so I'll have to go back to the drawing board on that one. This bottle of hard cider was not my best, but it proved to pair well to open the meal. Everything got good reviews and can certainly say I enjoyed it all. I hadn't cooked with lavender before so I wasn't sure what to expect. It was amazing.

What a way to celebrate the holiday season!


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rum Redux and RumBa

Rum has been on my mind since our trip to Jamaica last month. I made a rum cream after finding nothing at the state liquor stores and not wanting to buy and ship. Strong, but flavorful in all the right ways. Two new drinks go with it as well as those described in my last post on rum.

Coconut Creme

3 oz homemade rum cream
1 oz Malibu rum

Appleton Morning

3 oz homemade rum cream
1 oz Appleton Special

Meet me at RumBa! If you are into rum and from Boston you'll get this. You should get this. RumBa, the rum bar at the Intercontinental in Boston has 100+ rums ready to drink with curiosity accessible prices for the size of the drink. I tried the Cruzan Black Strap and lusted after the Appleton 21 and a host of others that will be tried before I'm gone! The Cruzan was slightly sweet and had a nice long and clean finish.

After the stop at RumBa I ordered a book on rum history which informs us of the Boston roots of the early rum business. "Rum: The Epic Story of the Drink That Conquered the World", July 2005, Charles Coulombe. This hopes to be a great read. We are already planning a trip to St. Croix to visit Cruzan!



Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dessert Wines

Any avid drinker can tell you the tale of when they first drank a good dessert wine. Vidal Ice Wine, Montreal QC in 2005. The honey, dried fruit, peaches and apricots left me stunned. Iced ciders, more ice wines and some Canadian whiskies were most excellent on that trip.

I had been making country and kit wines for a year or so by then, but nothing that fit with "good" dessert wine. The first dessert kit was a WinExpert Vidal wine base with a Vidal flavoring pack that added at the right time and with a little age creates a beautiful, rich delight. This wine has been tasted alongside many dessert wines and while the differences are perceptible, they are not game changing but in the most exceptional cases. My mother loved this as a birthday gift.

Since then I have made both fruit and kit dessert wines with much enjoyment. While I write this I am drinking the 2008 fresh fruit plum dessert wine which is aging surprisingly well. My notes on this wine indicate several previously unused techniques were used, acid balancing and manual degassing. Some experiences are so enjoyable learned hands on. Sweet plums with a nice tart hit are dripping with sweet juice. You want some too!

We just bottled the WinExpert Riesling Ice Wine which has a distinctive wild and profound character like many dessert, late harvest and ice wines. It needs some age before a more thorough review can be had. The glass of left over tasted great. AS/FA/VC look out!

I have a bottle of the 2009 "Super S" Strawberry Dessert wine in the freezer. The berries were picked in Londonderry at Sunnycrest in June. This wine was well cared for and has high expectations to meet. More next time.



Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Seasons Eatings & Drinkings

Last year I wrote a blog entry with some tips on Turkey Day food and wine pairing. You can find that entry here

I won't repeat that advice and instead I will suggest you try some new and random combinations and see what happens. Earlier this year we had a serendipitous pairing with our Strawberry wine and Cyndi's Shrimp & Feta Zucchini, which turned out to be a lot of fun. I say try something new and you will be rewarded!

We will be making the lime/cilantro brined smoked turkey again and it will be interesting what will pair well with that. I'll let you know.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Monday, November 16, 2009

If You're Not Drinking Appleton, You're Just Not In Jamaica

Just back from Runaway Bay Jamaica and of course the rum was flowing as much as ever!

Appleton Rum is the signature rum brand from Jamaica and if you go, you must try it in several forms to get a feel for the versatility of the rums from this 260 year old distillery on an island know for its place in the rum trade of old.

Imbibing Suggestions

1. Rum punch with a V/X float - traditional Jamaican punch with a float of Appleton V/X aged rum.
2. Street Pharmacist (an original) - rum cream, Appleton Special (gold rum) and Amaretto.
3. Appleton Reserve 12 Year - on the rocks like a bourbon or scotch. You will find this to be a complex spirit well worth savoring. And you have to go to get some as far as I know.

In Jamaica rum is a reflection of the spirit I love as much as reggae music and jerk chicken. All three go together very well and sure make for fun times on vacation.



Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Amenti del Vino Amateur Classic

Ancient Fire is celebrating another surprising competition result. We took 6 medals in the Amenti del Vino Amateur Classic hosted by M&M Wine Grape in Hartford, CT.

Bronze Medals

2009 Viognier
2008 Amarone
2008 Cabernet Blend
2008 Riesling/Gewurtztraminer Blend
2009 Strawberry #2

Silver Medals

2009 Strawberry #1

In a field dominated by red wines these results are pretty significant seeing that there were only 289 entries overall. We also entered the 2009 Pinot Noir, 2008 Vioginer and 2008 Gewurtztraminer/Riesling Blend which did not place.

With 17 medals to date Ancient Fire is creating quite a name for itself and receiving valuable feedback about the fruits of our labors in the process.



Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fighting Breast Cancer with Wine

No this isn't a science journal, and no I don't have some crackpot cure for cancer using homemade wine!

What I can tell you is that with great thanks going out to my parents, Tom & Marilyn Baziak and all of their friends we raised $867 for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer last Saturday.

We have had a annual wine tasting to raise money for the American Cancer Society since 2007 and we always have a great time. Cabot Cheese graciously sponsored us with 3 kinds of cheese, a new wine & cheese pairing guide and some give-aways. We had some drawings, Margot won the pig Snuggy, and a lot of talk about what we were up to with our wines.

We served the following tasty selections:

2008 Chilean Chardonnay
2008 White Blend #1 & #2
2009 Strawberry #2
2008 Cabernet Blend
2009 VT Dandelion
2009 Black Currant
2008 Cabernet Franc Ice Wine

The Dandelion wine was the unique wine of the day. Most people hadn't had it before so were surprised at the pleasant taste that does remind you of flowers after some consideration. It has a lot of lemon as well, which isn't bad either. The Strawberry and the Cab Blend were the big hits and we went home with only one bottle of the eight we brought between them. The Chardonnay has matured well and ended up being a nice addition as our hosts have traveled the world tasting many varieties along the way.

So in the end we are fighting cancer with wine and we can clearly say it is making a real difference!



Local Beer Update

I have had a few new local beers recently and wanted to share.

Some of our recent tastes were at the Wicked Wine & Beer Fest held at Mel's Funway in Litchfield. Several of the well known regional or national brewers were there, and Long Trail and Shipyard both had tasty seasonal brews. The Long Trail Imperial Porter was new for me and was one of the best all day! There were lots of Obtoberfest selections, including one from Bud that was nothing interesting at all.

Kona Brewing from HI was an interesting surprise and their Drifter will a special hops grown just for them was the most unique pale style I tried.

Local brewers Manchester Brewing, Martha's Exchange, and Pennichuck Brewing were also present. Manchester Brewing had their Naught Nancy and an Oatmeal Stout that were both top notch. Since the fest I have also had their Imperial Blonde. I liked it, but found that in the imperial styles I like the whites best, and then the real dark ones.

I also had a chance to pick up the Tripel White from White Birch Brewing in Hooksett. This beer is amazing. It had plenty of citrus, a pronounced flavor and a nice creamy texture. The bottles were hand labeled with numbered labels which should give you some idea of the time spent crafting these brews.



Thursday, September 24, 2009

Local Fruit Wines

Strawberries, peaches, pears and plums.

We have made or are in the process of making wine from all of those fruits grown by farms in town. Much love and thanks go out to Sunncrest, Elwood and Macks for the wonderful products we have acquired so far this year. The wines are better than ever! If you haven't visit any of their farm stands or U-Pick locations you should and often.

I wrote an earlier blog on the strawberry wine and will only follow that up with feedback that it is the best in 4 tries.

The peach wine has a beautiful orange/gold color and a subtle nose of peaches. We have some blending plans for this wine which I will write more about in time.

The pear wine is still fermenting and so far is looking good, but more time and clearing is required before its future self starts to shine through.

The local plum crop this was beaten by weather and as such the quantity we got will be blended with Riesling juice to make a full batch. More on that one later as well.

We also have hard cider on deck, but have not yet decided on who to source it from.



Thursday, September 10, 2009

Strawberry Wine

I have become known for my Strawberry wine, one could be known for worse things I imagine, which has become a driver for me to improve future batches.

Early this year we made a batch from frozen berries as we have in past years. The color was similar, although a bit more red, still a light shade and very transparent. The aroma and flavor were also similar, howevera slight bitter aftertaste has been noticed in this batch. While not much of an improvement, no loss either.

During strawberry season here in Southern NH we picked 38 lbs of berries and used about 34 for a batch of wine. About 4 lbs were used in a syrup for flavoring after the wine was stabilized. For this batch the color is much deeper, darker and reminds you of what you see when you look at a ripe berry. The aroma and flavor are much enhanced and the bitterness is not present as far as I can tell. The wine is smooth and medium-dry so it should appeal to a broad audience, unlike our past berry batches that tended to be on the sweet side.

I'll be popping bottles of this at upcoming parties so nobody should be fearful they will lose out. I also added some sulphite at bottling to help with preservation and longevity so if you don't see us soon you also should have no fear.

Having been docked in competition for aroma and color with my strawberry wines, I expect this batch will fair much better.



Monday, September 7, 2009

No Reservations, No Complaints

Margot and I have been watching the marathon of Anthony Bourdain's show No Reservations today. While I have seen the show before I never sat down to really watch the show. While the marathon offers visits to a long list of destinations one in particular caught our attention due to a curious drink that was mentioned.

Red wine and cola?

I did a quick web search and found that it is called Calimixo in several countries, including Spain.

On the show it was demonstrated at 7 parts red wine and 3 parts cola. We found a bit more cola enhanced the drinkability, but having traveled to other countries to find their Coke products to be a bit sweeter we aren't surprised.

When I first saw it I wasn't sure what to think, but knowing I had at least one bottle of red wine to spare I was sure it was worth a try.

With a near 50/50 blend the drink is smooth and flavorful almost like a low sugar root beer. Make no mistake, it goes down easy and it has plenty of alcohol so it stacks up quick!

The Rust Belt (Baltimore, etc) episode is on now so I need to go and turn my attention back to the TV.



Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cellar Update

The second half of 2009 is well underway, although I didn't take a noticeable summer break this year as I have in the past. The fresh fruit from the local farms is rating very highly from the tastes so far. Strawberry and Peach with Plum and Hard Cider on the way. We have so much to celebrate this fall!

A new Viognier, Bordeaux Blend and Exotic Fruit Zinfandel from kits are also underway. We have some blending plans for the fall and will let you all know about those in time.

We have tasting this week with friends over at Salon Outlooks. Check us out Tuesday night from 6-9 at the Londonderry location on Sheffield Rd.

We are also gearing up for out annual cancer fighting wine tasting in September. We have so many resveritrol particles and so little time to cure cancer!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

CT Wine Trail

Last weekend Margot, Tim, Abby and I checked out 4 wineries and a wine bar in western CT. What fun! The weather was great and the travel wasn't bad, but on to the reviews.

Overall each winery had some unique offerings, differing styles and lots of traffic. The wine quality was good, but uneven; something we know well and can understand the challenge of. One major point I have made so far offline is that while Chardonnay was prominent, I couldn't appreciate any of it. Too acidic and too dry. I am not starting or continuing a stylistic debate, but I wonder if making it is worth it? Even the dry blends with other wines took those other wines down a notch.

Other whites offered some very drinkable wines, several fruity and dry, and several indeed semi-sweet or dessert style. I know semi-sweet is a technical definition with a range of residual sugar possible, but for tastings with normal folks it can be a bit misleading. Several wines had deep flavors and clean finishes and gave us much inspiration and enjoyment. We picked up semi-sweet Seyval, Peach, and a dessert wine.

For red wines there were lots to choose from and from a wide range of varietals. Foch was prominent and was of similar quality to those we have had from NH, a couple were served too cold or too warm which did not help a brief evaluation. We had cheese with several flights and several cheeses were dead on matches with the wines. Picnic Red and the Beemster X-O at Haight-Brown was phenomenal. I had Chambourcin for the first time at CT Valley and was quite surprised at the complex flavors. Our hosts and I had a lively conversation about potential food pairings after hearing they have tried without success. I suggested lavender chicken which I plan to make in the fall. We bought a whole bunch of reds including a port, the Chambourcin, and Picnic Red.

We also sampled several dessert wines, but more on those after we drink the ones we brought home…

The Bosc wine bar was a lot of fun. There was live music and as the weather was in our favor, we sat outside! Wines by the glass aren't cheap and bottle prices for the regular wines offer no bargain until you get into the higher prices. Unique wines from around the world are pretty deep, but only for those with deep pockets. The apps were good and the company was top notch so no worries here.



Sunday, July 26, 2009

Weekend Update

Wine stories from the weekend.

The 2008 Strawberry, 2008 Amarone #2 and the 2009 Pinot Grigio paired well with the pig roast crowd. The Strawberry lasted longer than 3 minutes, but not by much. The rich Amarone was excellent with BBQ food.

The 2009 Strawberry and 2008 Viognier well very well received at Phil and Meredith's Pampered Chef party. The dessert synched up well with the Strawberry wine, which didn't last two hours. The 2008 Viognier has matured so well from an underwhelming wine early on. Good thing I haven't been swilling it.

The 2009 Pinot Noir went into the bottle today. It is a bit hot, but will mellow with some age. It is rich and not overly assertive and should age well.

A new batch of Bordeaux blend was started today. Anurag and I talked winemaking as we bottled one and kicked off another. If these are as good as the 2007's are now in 2011, we will all be very happy!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cellar Update

We just racked up about 80 bottles of 2008 and 2009 wines from recent bottlings. Check the slideshows for pictures of the cellar in various states. Good stuff, too.

The Cabs are drinking well, but certainly need more time.

Amarone #2 is better than the first one, but time will help here as well.

Anurag and I are going to start a batch of a nice Southern French red blend this weekend.

I've been watching the Tour de France this month and thinking about making a white Bordeaux style blend. I have had only a few, and most were well worth it.

The new kitchen has wine storage and will be used during the parties and holidays to keep the fridge full. We are so looking forward to sharing these creations with everyone as we host in the coming months. Wait until you see what we are going to have fermenting and aging when you come...



Monday, July 20, 2009

Amarone Update

I returned to Amarone again in 2008 with the award winning 2007 version on my mind. We ended up doing two. I had originally thought two barrels of 50/50 blend, but we held off. The first is a Mosti Mondiale All Juice version with some oak and long aging, almost 1 year. The second version is a Mosti Fresco Fresh Juice product, also with some oak but with two less months of aging.

The 2007 winner had a deep purple color, powerful nose and pronounced banana flavors. It was recognizable from the aroma alone, and did not last long!

The first 2008 batch was tight and focused, but lacked the aromatic punch and flavors of the earlier. It was strong and pleasant to drink so we figure some aging will help. This was bottled in early 2009.

The second 2008 batch is better, with more aromas and the desired banana flavors, albeit not as strong still. The wine is very rich and with some aging will mellow a bit. The high alcohol is there and the wine is very dark. I bottled this on July 19th.

Both wines are going to make for good competition fodder next year and should be drinking well at that time.


-- Jason

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Triple Threat

Yesterday we ended up opening 3 bottles from the Ancient Fire line, a 2009 Strawberry, 2009 White Blend RG and a 2007 Columbia Valley Riesling. What an amazing flight they ended up making!

The Strawberry was gone in under 3 minutes! This wine is a our flagship wine. This wine is our fan favorite. The smell of the Strawberry wine permeated an area around the folks with cups full. The flavor is subtle, but you sure know what you are drinking.

The White Blend RG, Riseling/Gewurztraminer, was a huge hit as well. We contrasted it with the 2007 CV Riesling which was much drier in its older age. All three went very well with backyard BBQ food on a hot day.

Thank you to Missy and Steve for the great time.



Friday, July 17, 2009

The Error Of My Ways

Sometimes we all have to admit that we don't have our eye on the ball.

Not only has it been almost 3 weeks since I last posted, sorry the kitchen re-model is still going on, but I recently brought what I thought were homemade beers to a friend's place only to offer cranberry hard lemonade and root beer. How did this happen?

In 2004 I started this adventure making beer. I quickly moved on to wine and have been consumed by that almost exclusively since. I do make some beer and other fermented beverages each year, but not much anymore. The exception is hard cider, but the way I make it it turns out like a lower alcohol apple wine so the similarities make it work.

The last two years of beer and other products got jumbled up in the basement, mislabeled or not labeled and thus I thought something was one thing only to find out it wasn't. While not the end of the world it certainly made me think I ought to tighten up my game.

I am in the process of sampling each box and determining what the remaining bottles are filled with. For those of you I will be visiting soon, rest assured you will get what I say it is!!



Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On Newsstands Tomorrow!!

I’ve never been interested much in getting in the local news, but with our recent competition successes and overall fun making wine at home maybe I should. Margot facilitated contacting several local media outlets and the Derry News will have an article on the front page of the lifestyles section in tomorrow’s edition.

My early release copy brought me great joy as the pictures and the article were larger and displayed more prominently than I expected. It is a great article and should be a great way to spread the word about the fun we are having and how it represents locally made and grown, a wonderful NH tradition. I will post an online link when it becomes available.



Monday, June 15, 2009

BBQ Smoker Experiment

We converted a dead gas grill to a hardwood/charcoal smoker this weekend.

4 lbs ribs, 1 lb chicken and 1/2 lb steak tips later I think we got it.

The smoky flavor was what we drool over when you can get it. Many more times are needed to perfect the technique.


On a roll!

Another martini from the weekend was:

1 measure lime vodka
1 measure vermouth (and/or triple sec for more orange)
1 measure OJ

shake over ice and serve in a martini glass



Apple Martini Recipe

The new crowd pleaser, the Apple Martini is not original, nor homemade, but is hot nonetheless.

1 measure vodka (green apple flavored if available)
1 1/2 measure sour apple pucker liqueur
1/2 measure sour mix

shake over ice and serve in deep martini glass



Black Currant Dessert Wine

So there will be 3 distinct versions of the Black Currant wine.

2 btls 1/2 Black Currant & 1/2 Cab Blend
15 btls 100% Black Currant
4-5 btls 100% Black Currant Oaked Reserve

The richness of the flavor prompted us to try some port-style variations. Either way they will need certain bottle aging and will ultimately be fantastic with a cheese plate!



Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ancient Fire Martini Night

This past Friday Margot and I were experimenting again with martinis and put together an original worth mentioning. And best of all it contains some award winning Ancient Fire wine!

Devil's Kiss
1 measure Pomegranate Vodka
1 measure Ancient Fire Strawberry wine
1 measure sweet Vermouth
1/2 measure Grenadine
Shake well with ice and serve in a martini glass with a lemon twist

With a deep red color and sweetness from 3 ingredients this drink is powerful but very drinkable.



Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dandelion Wine Experiment

Two weekends ago I picked about 4 quarts of dandelion flowers with spontaneous enthusiasm of making a batch of dandelion wine. I have never made it before, have only had a very little bit in the past and was not sure what to expect.

The dandelions were recovered from the lawn at the VT house where no chemicals, etc are used so they should be as organic as something that is fed by the rain in the Northeast can be. That is an absolute requirement otherwise bad things can result.

The experiment is going along well, with about 1 gallon total fermenting. The recipe I used called for citrus and the intermediate result is a citrus tasting wine with interesting grassy and floral notes. Only time will tell.


Monday, May 18, 2009

The WineMaker International Results Are In!

Ancient Fire took 3 medals for 4 submissions.

Gold - Cabernet Franc Ice Wine
Silver - Viognier
Silver - Golden Plum Dessert Wine

Thanks to all of you for supporting me for another successful year.

The full results can be found at the link below. (Search the PDF for Jason Phelps to find the listings)


Monday, May 4, 2009

Beer Drinker Update for Montreal

We just got back from 3 days in Montreal and part of plan was to sample the local and big brand Canadian brews. We sampled a decent selection of styles and from one perspective they can be categorized into two classes, local microbrews and microbrew styles distributed by the big brand companies we all know.

On the local microbrew front we found two locations that craft the beer on site and serve it from the bar and in the restaurant in the same location. Both are on Crescent Street which is where the food and drink action is based on our experience. We have eaten on St. Denis as well, but the scene on Crescent was more lively.

Brutopia has been around since the mid-90's and has a straightforward location from which to serve their excellent brews. We tried the Raspberry Blond, Belgian 9% and the Java Stout. Margot clearly preferred the Raspberry Blond, but could appreciate the Belgian as well. The Belgian was the best beer I had all weekend and I had several to confirm this finding. A full bodied beer with a good head and strong aromas, it would be tough competition for many carefully crafted beers. The Java Stout was very good, with strong aromas of chocolate and coffee, but I felt it would be better served with a second fermentation and paired with a rich chocolate cake. The complement there is subtle, but I stand by it. The Raspberry Blond was a typical blond ale with a strong assertive berry aroma and hint of fruit acids in the finish. There were a whole bunch more we could have tried, but we need to check in elsewhere so time was short. We will be back and I would recommend this as a must go for anyone wanting to check out the Montreal microbrew scene.

Les 3 Brasseurs on Crescent is one of the Canadian locations of a French chain which is well known for good handcrafted beers and tasty pub food to go with. We tried the sample which includes their white, blond, red and brown ales in cute little snifters that amplify the aromas. All of the beers were tasty, with the white and red being the consistent favorites. Belgian white style beers seem to be of new popularity in Montreal (I might have missed this on past visits, please don't take offense) and the lot of them are pretty similar, unfiltered, with strong spice and citrus aromas and served with a slice of orange. The red tasted a bit of honey and had medium body and a clean finish. The blond and brown weren't uniquely notable, but worth the sampler size. The food in this joint was very good as well and the service was fast, although they weren't busy. We would recommend a stop here as well.

Another local item was the Du Minot sweet cider. I ordered this after dinner at Hurley's (see my next blog post for more info on where we ate) and very much enjoyed it. Du Minot is produced in Quebec about an hour south of Montreal. If you are a cider drinker and can find it on the menu or in store it is worth the time.

Now on to the beers from Molson, Unibroue and Anheuser-Busch. Molson, as you may well be experienced, makes a whole bunch of beers with wide distribution and great quantities. I didn't have any of those this time around. I do like the Molson XXX mostly because it is 7.3% alcohol and has some character for a big production item. Rickards is a microbrew styled line produced by Molson and is worth a look. We tried drafts of the White and the Honey Brown and found both quite pleasing. Neither was as good as the local items above, but that is to be expected. If you are in town and want something more than Molson Export or Molson Ice, Rickards might be the choice. They make a Red and Brown as well. Molson also has an interesting offering called Molson Dry which appears to be 10.1% alcohol, but it appears to be a kicked up version of their standard beer and I couldn't bring myself to try it.

Unibroue is well known for their strong beers, with several at or above 8-10% alcohol. These were the first of the strong Canadian beers I ever had and in some ways is what keeps me coming back. We can get these in the states, but it wasn't until recently I started seeing them show up in the places I normally bought beer. I only tried one selection of theirs this time, the Blance de Chambly, another white ale. Once again this was unfiltered, with good aromas and flavors making a nice paring for a bacon cheese burger. If you are looking for something to give you a good kick try Fin du Mond or Maudite, both of which are 9% and remind you they are in the room.

Anheuser-Busch is the importer of a Belgian brown ale named Leffe which I found in the grocery store and thought I would give it a try. If you like Belgian brown ales or want to appreciate strong aromas and flavors in something new try and find Leffe. I haven't seen it in NH so far, but it may be out there.

All in all we achieved what we set out to do, but we are very sure we only scratched the surface based on the recommendations we got as to where else we should go and what else we should try. Montreal, we will be back, be ready...



Monday, April 27, 2009

Another month has flown by. I have been busy with wine stuff, but so many other things that getting to the blogging definitely didn't get the time.

The spring wines are coming along well. The Strawberry is in the clearing stage and is trending to be the best yet. The CDP and Pinot Noir are both coming along nicely and will need some more time before they will be ready for the bottle. The Pinot Grigio is ready to be stabilized and is going to plan, but I don't have a good read on the taste yet. The Black Currant desert wine is stabilizing now and will take some sweetening to balance the high, and unintended, alcohol content.

I bottle the first Amarone from last year this weekend. With a few months of age any bottle shock should fade and it should be drinking well from there. The other reds are still aging, but should head into the bottle in the next few weeks.

The white blends (Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Niagra in two combinations) have both been bottled and are already being enjoyed. Slightly sweet with good aroma and flavor I certainly am glad I exercised patience with them, they are better than expected.

Well, I'm off to take a walk with the dog and then back to business with a few of the wines needing attention this week.



Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Strawberry Wine

At three years hence the Strawberry wine started this week is the longest running style I have made. The recipes from 2007 to 2009 have changed slightly, but the same basic ingredients and proportions are used.

What starts out sweet is often only off-dry when it is drinkable and with a year of age can actually be dry, but not tart ,while retaining the fruit flavor.

The comparison of the 2007 with the 2008 at several points has indicated the wines are different than each other at the same ages, but a similar drying trend out at 6-9 months appears likely to continue. The 2008 had more sugar to start and when finished, so the drying may extend longer. Only time will tell.

Margot made this batch with me after I enticed her with the "secret" recipe. We both had fun and are looking forward to tastings as it develops.



Made in NH is this weekend!

Support local businesses including several of the NH Winery Association members who will be pouring their award winning wines alongside vendors of all kinds of NH products.


The 2009 Wines are Underway

It has been over a month since I last posted.

Fear not, I have been busy getting supplies together, degassing and fining the 2008's that are still in progress and to lead out the CDP style blend went down last week. For the CDP blend I also used some currants to add grape mass for added tannins, esters, ethers, and solids to dissolve and unlock tastes, aromas and textures. The wine is full and thick and pretty spicy due to its Syrah base. Some oak aging and 9 months in the bottle is the expected target, which ends up being June 2010 or later!!!

The Strawberry and Black Currant Dessert wines got started this week. Both are very sweet with high starting gravities and good balance so we should all feel lucky as these two head on their way to summer parties!

The 2008’s are doing very well, the reds are expected to be going into the bottle in the next few months and the whites even sooner. Most of the reds will need another 6-9 months before they are really drinkable, the whites may 1-2 months at a minimum.



Sunday, February 22, 2009

Wine Dinner Success!

Margot and I hosted the first of the wine dinners we hope to have this year. The response was amazing and truly an honor as the chef and wine maker as well.

You can check out the menu with this link

The Elderberry Piesporter was a hit and the pairing with the spicy garlic hummus was spot on.

The main course provided 3 distinct pairings and all of them were unique and very well matched. My favorite was the quiche with the 2007 Bordeaux. The smoky cheese and bacon paired with the earthy flavors in the wine was uncommon.

The cheese course was an opportunity to try the 2008 Plum Dessert wine in a new way. The intense flavor of the cheddar helped to magnify the wine's flavors and the brie provided a smooth and soft base for this intense wine.

We finished up the evening with a light chocolate cake and the 2008 Strawberry wine. We have used this pairing before and continue to use it because it works so well!

We also included a barrel extracted sample of the forthcoming Amarone. There was no pairing involved and at this point the wine clearly stands on its own and is easily recognizable. Patience will surely be rewarded.



Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2008 Traminer-Riesling Blend Update

The two batches of Traminer-Riesling blend, 55/45 and 45/55, are coming along nicely. A bentonite fining and some more cold have been prescribed in hopes of clearing and a softening of the acids. Time will tell.

We opened a bottle of the 2007 Strawberry (gold medal, I had to...) this past weekend. Fitting for V-Day! It was much drier and still drinkable, but usage as a base for a salad dressing is also planned. We paired it with Grafton Sage Cheddar with much fanfare. It paired well with apple as well.


-- Jason

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Wine and the Economy

Ahhh, the downward ride of the economic cycle... Having fun yet?

Depending on what you read and where you read it, the reports on the alcohol business is either doing really well despite everything or riding along with it. That is probably true in some places and not in others, and more likely for some products and not others.

So what do you drink in tough economic times? I would guess what you can afford. Look for local wines that offer small batch attention and a wide range of tastes and aromas. Values from outside the most talked about regions are always worth searching for. And in a lot of places older vintages that don't sell well are reduced. Another year of age for many red wines makes them a better buy all the way around. The whites still need to be crisp in color with age, if not, don't buy it. If you like something on sale and provide yourself a budget for wine in the groceries, you should buy two when you see the best price.

Our own winemaking will be shortened this year due to economic forces, but fear not we have so much underway still that we will have plenty to share with friends.



Sunday, January 25, 2009

2009 WineMaker International Competition

The 2009 WineMaker Magazine Amateur International Compeition is upon us!

Last year Ancient Fire picked up 4 awards and shared one with our friend Vincent!

This year we are back with a few repeats and a couple of new things that have pleased the crowds to date!

2008 Strawberry
2008 Viognier
2008 Plum Dessert
2008 CF Ice Wine



Saturday, January 24, 2009


I'm sure quite a few of my friends can quote from the movie Sideways, but maybe not everyone. I'm not going to bother to explain the movie except by example of my current reality.

You see, I am in the midst of both a quest for great wines and to give my brother a fitting send-off to married life. The wines are hopefully the ones I am going to make this year, and for my brother we will have to wait and see. That story will never end the way it did in the movie. I am sure we will have some good laughs and a couple of mishaps along the way though.

What are you all drinking? What is something new and different you have tried for the first time? What surprised you in something new? What are the everyday wines you drink when you do? These are all questions I am pondering for the future of Ancient Fire Wines.

Last weekend Margot and I attended the New Hampshire Winery Association annual meeting. A social hour and dinner preceded the meeting and I have to say the wines and the food were excellent. Many of the wines were from local wineries that we hadn't tried yet and say great things for several young wineries. Some of my favorites were open and represent a raising of the bar for some of the operations that have been at it a bit longer. Make sure you seek out the local wines. Check the association web site for links to all of the wineries that are online.



Sunday, January 18, 2009

Quote for the times

I said something today while tasting some new wines. The meaning wasn't lost then and it still isn't now.

"If the winemaker matters to the wine and the winemaker is an asshole, their wine might taste like shit!"

Once you know who makes a wine you may evaulate that wine differently.



Saturday, January 17, 2009

Aging and 2009 Update

I have been busy the last two weeks racking, tasting and testing the wines in progress. The reds are coming along very well with the Amarone likely to be the best of the year. Good fruit flavors and mellow oak in the early batches. The fall wines from fresh juice are doing very well but with less age they don't taste as complete as the others. The Traminer-Riesling blends are slowly making their way to the right clarity. I am pretty confident with the taste and structure and expect these will please dry to sweet Riesling drinkers.

Plans for 2009 are fast in motion. In the early spring I will set down a Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio and a CDP style blend. All three will be using juice plus grape/fruit mass for initial fermentation. The reds will get a slight oak drop for the very early fermentation and then oak will not be used again as planned.

Entry into the WineMaker competition in the spring is assured, but unless I can find some other local amateur contests that might be it for the year. We have some solid new entries and some repeat entries that will be good competition.

Once we get on into the summer, Strawberry will be up again, hopefully we will make 2 batches this year. We will definitely do a big batch of plum and depending on the harvest this year something else of the fruit type might inspire me.

The bottling of the current batch of wines should be complete by this time, which frees up valuable equipment for the fall wines. In the fall I hope to build a Meritage style blend and white arrangement with a little oak.



Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Happy New Year!

Wine and Food Pairing Tip: When the power is out, drink beer!

The NH Golden Plum Wine has been in the bottle and is drinking very well! We saw the following recipe mentioned in a holiday special with Sandra Lee. It is called a Sugar Plum Fairy.

1 part plum wine
1 part champagne or sparkling wine
splash of cranberry

The new Ancient Fire Wines URL is active. Thanks Tim!

All of the 2008 reds and the last two whites are still settling and aging. The last round of tasting and blending found good promise.