Friday, October 28, 2011

Late Summer Pairing with Rodney Strong Chardonnay

Earlier this month I riffed on a recipe from the book Down Home: Downtown – Seasonal Recipes fromTwo Sonoma Wine Country Restaurants that Robert Larsen of Rodney StrongVineyards had given me at the Wine Bloggers Conference in July.

I got busy with Regional Wine Week and forgot that I had never published my review of the wine and the pairing. It was still late summer-like when I made the dish, a broiled salmon with a Panzanella salad, which is quite different that the weather today after our first snow and with temperatures in the 40’s. I guess this is my subconscious hoping for what is evident to be just a dream, but alas winter is coming.

You can find the original recipe I worked from on page 97 of Down Home: Downtown. One thing to note is that there isn’t a recipe for the drizzle shown on the fish in the book’s pictures so I can’t say what the exact flavors were intended there. Here’s what I did:

For the salmon I used an olive oil rubbed cast iron skillet over medium-high heat to cook it to browned on both sides. I then transferred the salmon to a 400 degree oven to finish the cooking. This takes 2-3 minutes per side. This method is dreadfully easy and ensures your salmon has a bit of crisp on the outside but is gently cooked inside.

For a drizzle I made a poor-mans Aioli with mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, garlic and salt.

The Panzanella salad was absent of the corn from the original recipe, contained white onion and had two kinds of sweet heirloom tomatoes from a local farm.  The dressing was made as it was described using balsamic vinegar, garlic, shallot, olive oil, salt & pepper.

Having recently perfected the above cooking method for salmon there is no way that part of the dish could have been better. The faux-Aioli was excellent and the pairing with the wine really did work. That said, I would have used red onion in the Panzanella salad. White onion was what I had and it just didn’t measure up. There was nothing wrong with the salad, I’m just imagining home much more I would have enjoyed it. The addition of the corn would take it up a notch as well, so do it if you make this dish, or something like it.

The Rodney Strong Chardonnay suggested in the book and that I paired with the dish is from the Sonoma County series and is easily accessible in my local state liquor stores. The nose is spicy with a bit of buttered toast. I also picked up lemon and pear. On the palate the pear came back but with more of a baked slant to it. The oak is nicely balanced to be more on the spicy and not overtly woody side. The acidity of the wine is healthy enough for a clean finish.

The wine and the fish were a great combination, the roasty crust on the outside of the salmon was balanced by the oak and the acidity of the wine helped offset the subtle fatty character typical of salmon.  The wine and the salad weren’t as well made of a match, but there was nothing off-putting when they were combined; there just wasn’t any magic.

If you are dealing with the onset of winter like we here in New England I hope this late summer meal offered a welcome distraction for just a moment. If not, go out and cook something befitting warm weather just because you can.



Wednesday, October 26, 2011

White Birch Celebrates Three More Apprentice Program Graduates

White Birch Brewing is back at the Ancient Fire Wine Blog. It might seem a bit slanted for White Birch to have shown up a half dozen times in my blog just in the last year, but what can I say? The beer is good and the people who have embraced White Birch are fun to be around.

Last Friday night Margot and I headed over to the new space White Birch recently moved into for an open house to celebrate the graduation of three more apprentices. The Apprentice Program at White Birch is one of the most unique (I know it isn’t a new idea, but for our times…) ideas to help spread the love of a craft to others whilst training people for future employment and grow your own business all at the same time.

The most exciting part of the program for consumers is that each apprentice gets to pick a beer to brew at White Birch that becomes “their” beer. Once that beer makes its way to the tasting room we get to meet the creator and enjoy their beer at an open house along with lots of other White Birch enthusiasts. Being able to meet three such people, and try their beers, in one night was a true joy.

Margot and I also ran into several Brew Free or Die (BFD) homebrew club members at the event, fermenting our choice to join up so we could hang with people with similar interests. Bill Herlicka, the founder of White Birch, has been a long time member of BFD and is a stellar example of where you can take such a passion. Beer really is that cool!

First up was a blind tasting of beers only named “B” or “O”. Margot and I preferred “B” which we found fruitier and maltier. I still don’t know exactly what was going on here, but I bet it won’t be long before White Birch fans find out.

The first apprentice was David Sakolsky with his creation, Deviant Monk. Dave described the beer as a Belgian Strong Dark Ale brewed with spices and aged on Tempranillo soaked oak. What, what, what!?!?!
I had to ask why and how this brew came to be. Dave went on to explain that this was a recipe he had been working with as a home brewer for some time, and with his experiences at White Birch he was able to create a batch that made all of his effort come full circle. One of Dave’s friends was chilling to the left of the table and he confirmed that being friends with Dave means that you get to try some pretty awesome homebrewed beer.

Margot and I found the beer to be sweet, malty with obvious spices, hints of wood aging and just a bit of wine character. This is a big beer, 10% ABV, and presents enough nuance that my tendency would be to serve it is an aperitif or with dessert in a formal pairing setting. I’d drink a whole glass of this, or a bomber, just because I could, but for me it isn’t an all night drinker. I am suspecting most other folks would feel the same way.

Way to go Dave!

Next up was Christian Weber with his Colonial Ale. I asked Christian what had him looking to the Colonial era for beer inspiration. He explained that coming to school in New England from elsewhere exposed him to people who were very proud of their heritage and history, and that stuck with him. To him the Colonial Ale brewed with molasses, which was common in that era, and aged on local cedar embraces the history and tradition in the region.

The beer is rich, and was served (at least to us) warm enough that it expose a full palate of malt, spice and wood in both the nose and mouth. The touch of Brett did add a bit of funk and character to the beer to make it stand out.

Christian, thanks for your spin on New England beer!

The last beer we reached as we worked around the room was the Eorna Ceol Ale brewed by Justin Umlah. This beer is Justin’s take on a Scottish Wee Heavy Ale, a beer style I don’t have experience with, making this tasting that much more exciting.

I again asked Justin about the motivation. Scottish heritage and a love for the style of beer were the succinct reply. He is clearly very passionate and animated creating lots of laughs at the table while serving his beer and interacting with tasters.

Margot and I both found a wonderful perfumed nose of malt, smoke and earth to the beer, with a rich malty character in the mouth that is noticeably sweet. This beer was also served at cellar temperature (purposefully or not I don’t know) which really did help us pick up the aromatics it offered.

Many thanks to Justin for introducing us to a new style of beer!

There was a festive mood during the open house. I offer the Octoberfest girl in the following picture as evidence.

As we have said before, we strongly recommend beer lovers seek out White Birch products and/or plan a visit to the brewery so you can experience it for yourself.



Monday, October 24, 2011

Great Fall Warmer - Squash Peanut Soup

Continuing my transition to cool weather eating I present my first soup of the season. This time of year we can overload on squash in New England, with all the typical, and a few lesser known, varieties showing up at every farmstand you pass. Before Thanksgiving each year Margot and I typically buy the bulk bag from one of the nearby farms from which we get a mashup of squash with the price per pound for the tasty local stuff around fifty cents.

For me squash soup is just slightly less obvious of a use for the bounty than pie or straight-up baking it. I didn’t used to be a soup eater, but being a squash lover I have found my way to soup with it. Two of the ingredients that I commonly use in my squash soup or curry’s are peanut butter and curry from either powder or paste. These flavors really do work well together. I just have to watch the spice or Margot will get mad at me!

Squash Peanut Soup

1 large white onion, sliced
1 medium red pepper, chopped
2 large stalks of celery, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp curry powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1 tbsp garlic paste
4 cups vegetable broth
1 large butternut squash, cubed
1 cup shredded carrot
6 tbsp creamy peanut butter
2 tsp cilantro paste
1 cup frozen plain green peas
1 1/2 cups cooked basmati rice, with 2 tbsp cumin seeds

Heat a large stock pot oven over medium heat. Coat the pan with cooking spray, add the olive oil and allow to heat. Add the onion, pepper, and celery, cooking until the onion is translucent. Stir in the curry powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and garlic. Cook for several minutes until the aromatics are strong, stirring constantly. Add the broth, squash, and carrot; bring to a boil.

Cover and reduce the heat. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the squash is tender. Cook the rice using your favorite method. I use a rice cooker and it takes about 15-20 minutes for this amount; so starting it here will ensure it is cooked and ready to go. Stir in the peanut butter and simmer for several additional minutes. Stir in the peas and cilantro paste.  Cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated.

Serve over the rice while still hot. Salt and season to taste.

There you have it, a great meal to warm you up after a day of yard work! I didn’t take any pictures of the dish during or after cooking on the count of the yard work and my desire to drink a bunch of beers to ward off the soreness that I could already feel coming on.



p.s. Marie, I'm glad you like this soup so much. I've got more all vegetable dishes that I bet you will like just as much. We'll have to conspire on some wine pairings for vegetarian delights. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Red Wine Slow Cooked Pork Loin

The weather has fully turned to autumn and that means lots of slow cooker meals on those days I work from home. This week at the end of #winechat Marie (Life of Vines Blog & #winechat host) mentioned that the topic for next week’s chat will seasonal drinking and the shift to cooler weather. I’m not a seasonal drinker per se, but I do see the shift in action when I observe other people’s habits. In my post at CBS Boston earlier this year about Summer Beverage Trends I did share my thought on lighter beers and drinks with carbonation prevailing during the warm weather. I drink red wine and dark, heavy beers all year round, but the key for me is being able to serve red wine the right temperature, even in the heat. If you can’t, it isn’t worth wasting a good bottle of red wine served at 80 degrees!

I am a seasonal eater however, and the shift in recipes does involve cooking with red wine, something I did for the first time this season, this week. The meals are often heartier including root vegetables, reductions of the braising juices from the slow cooker and bread. Paired with an equally hearty red wine these meals are always quite satisfying.

This week I took a couple wines from Bonny Doon Vineyard for a spin, using one to cook three pounds of pork loin, and the other to pair with the finished product. I’ll review the wines first and then finish with the recipe for pork.

Le Cigare Volant 2007

Complex nose with lots of dark red and black fruits. Hints of warmth from the oak. Raspberry and plum in the mouth. There is also spice, earth and a vegetal character in the mouth. The complexity continues through the finish. Nice balance and it really demands to be enjoyed! I’ve heard plenty about this wine and was just too lazy up until recently to get some in house. This is a solid Rhone style blend from a California producer that I am just getting to know. A blend of 60% Grenache, 32% Syrah, 4% Mourvèdre and 4% Cinsault.

Clos de Gilroy 2010

Central Coast Grenache. I’m not sure about this particular wine. It is young and if it is going to develop any austerity and nuance I didn’t get a hint of it from my tasting. Sometimes bottles don’t travel well, and bottle #2 will be allowed to sit well into 2012 to see that happens. I found it to be fruity, light, with soft tannins and pretty basic. I did feel it was tasty enough and at a reasonable price point to cook with, and that’s just what I did.

Red Wine Slow Cooked Pork

Rub for the pork

½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp salt
½ tsp instant coffee powder
¼ tsp all spice
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp chipotle powder
3 pound pork loin roast

Cooking liquid

1 cup Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy 2010
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Reduced Sodium Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp honey

Mix all of the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl. Rub the pork loin, including the bottom
and sides of the roast with the prepared dry rub. Allow the meat to sit for at least an hour.

Setup your slow cooker, coat the inside of it with cooking spray and set on high. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and lightly coat with olive oil. Sear the roast on all sides until nicely browned. Remove from heat. Pour all of the cooking liquid ingredients into a small saucepan, and cook over medium heat until just hot.

Place the roast in the slow cooker. Pour the warm cooking liquid over top. Cook on high for 1 hour. Reduce heat and cook on low for 6 hours, or until it reaches the desired consistency.

Remove the pork from the slow cooker, and let rest, covered with tin foil, while you prepare the glaze form the leftover cooking liquid. Pour the liquid from the bottom of the slow cooker into a small pot on the stove, and bring to a boil. Let the liquid simmer and reduce for 10 minutes or so, until it thickens.

The pork came out of the slow cooker almost falling apart and by the time the plates were prepared a fork cut right through it. I plated the pork with sauteed onions, the sauce, mashed parsnip & potato and butter/dill carrots. The bread was a rosemary white bread made using a killer no-knead recipe taken from the book “My Bread, The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method”. The bread really is easy and the smell of warm rosemary while it was cooking was very pleasing!

The pairing with the Le Cigare Volant was spot on. The match for the spices in the rub and those in the wine was the central tie for me. The richness of the sauce over the pork was complimented by the complexity of the wine. The only sad part has been eating the leftovers at my desk at work without the wine!



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Drink Local - Clown Shoes Blaecorn Unidragon

Holy wild name Batman! And you might feel like you are wearing clown shoes after drinking this particular beer.

Clown Shoes is a relatively new local brand and from what the label says is brewed at Mercury Brewing in Ipswich, MA. The web site says Clown Shoes was started by a group of beer lovers, and they clearly have some creative ideas for making and marketing beer. I had no idea what I was walking into by choosing a Clown Shoes beer to review in my blog. Search Google for “clown shoes beer” and you will find a series of articles about provocative and sexist labeling, conspiracy theories about who Clown Shoes is exactly, and impassioned votes for AND against their beers.

A beer named Tramp Stamp or Brown Angel with scantily clad women on the label? Say what you will, but if the beer is good the label only adds to the experience. The names and labels are going to ruffle some feathers for sure, but give it a rest, it’s a beer, an adult beverage that adults choose to drink! Walk away if you don’t like it. A little controversy goes a long way these days, and whether intended or not I am betting it has helped business.

Blaecorn Unidragon
Russian Imperial Stout
12.5% ABV

Pours a very dark brown with a thick light brown head. Coffee, chocolate and hops meet your nose pretty quickly. Those aromas translate to flavors and I also found vanilla. This beer is complex and much hoppier than other Imperial Stouts, but that is the beauty of beer, there is something for everyone. I like this particular beer, but in fairness it didn’t grab me in a profound way.

The alcohol is not overtly perceptible, but you won't mistake this brew for a session ale. I vaguely recall having something from Clown Shoes at the ABCF back in June, but I’d have to dig out my notes to see what it was. I am interested in trying some of the other styles and while a 22 ouncer is a bit pricy, it’s local beer and I might find one I really dig!

So that’s my controversial, local beer review for this week.



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Godiva Coffee Cocktails

Here at the Ancient Fire Wine Blog there is a simple theme, adult beverages. Whether we are making hooch at home, tasting and reviewing commercial offerings, pairing drinks with dinner or opining on sips our readers shouldn't miss, we've got your imbibing covered. So it was with great excitement that two new cocktail creations were born using flavored coffees from Godiva received as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program.

Margot and I love coffee, no really, we LOVE it. The hallmark of any vacation destination for us is the coffee we find, and sometimes we spend considerable time searching for the right cup. Oddly we don’t make alcohol infused coffee cocktails that often so the ideas of how to use the Godiva coffees we received were slow to come.

In time, the ideas gelled and we offer the two cocktails below as the fruits of our artistic labors.

Not Your Average Pumpkin Pie

8 oz brewed Godiva Pumpkin Spice coffee, hot
1 ½ oz liquid coffee creamer or half & half
1 Tbsp butter
1 oz gold rum
1 oz spiced simple syrup
½ oz hand-infused black rum
Spray whipped cream
Grated nutmeg

Warm the rums, butter and simple syrup until hot, not boiling. Mix with the coffee and pour into cocktail glass. Cover the top with whipped cream and grate the nutmeg over the top.

Barking Up the Right Tree Mocha

4 oz brewed Godiva Caramel Pecan Bark coffee, well chilled
1 oz dark chocolate syrup
1 oz liquid coffee creamer or half & half
2 oz mocha liqueur
Spray whipped cream
Caramel sauce

Blend all the liquid ingredients with a whisk. Pour into a martini glass and cover with whipped cream. Garnish with caramel sauce.

Both of these drinks channel the flavors of the coffee with the added bump of some liquor and additional complexity from the other ingredients. They may not be the kind of drink you would take several of in succession, but they certainly offer a celebratory and revelerous slant that might just fit at your next brunch or work perfectly after dinner instead of dessert.



Disclosure of Material Connection: As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Moonlight Meadery – Liquid Gold from New Hampshire

I’ve heard enough feedback about mead in the last eight years that I can say you either like mead or not, but all too often the mind is made up from only one style of mead; and there are many to try. I invite anyone who hasn’t experienced mead or enough of it to come and give it a try.

As a home brewer, cidermaker and winemaker I’ve also dabbled in mead. Early on I learned that mead has different names depending on what it is made with. I’ve made mead twice, two more batches are in the queue to start next month, and have yet to cover all the primary styles. Below is a concise overview of those styles. There are many other variations and names for mead.
  • Traditional – water, honey and yeast. That’s it. People interested in mead should try this style to get a baseline for what wine made from honey tastes like. All of the rest of the variations below are riffs on this, using the honey, water and yeast as the starting point.
  • Metheglin – contains spices. I made an Orange/Vanilla mead this year that is technically a metheglin. The orange was low volume and the vanilla is a predominant flavor in the finished product. Other spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, tea and ginger are all commonly used. My first mead was a Blackberry with nutmeg so either a metheglin or melomel (up next).
  • Melomel – made with fruit. Next to traditional mead this is the second most popular type in my experience. Berries, cherries, currant, mango, etc. These can come dry or sweet depending on the maker’s preference. If made with apples and grapes, see below.
  • Pyment – made with grapes or grape juice. I’ve only had a few of these, one just last night in fact that was rockstar, and this is an area I will experiment with in the coming years. If oak aged it can have a port-like character.
  • Braggot – made with hops and/or malt. Another variation I’ve only had a couple of times, but has intense character. The best one I've had came from Michael at Moonlight Meadery (we’re getting to he and his meads!) and was in an Imperial Stout form. Another area for potential experimentation for me.
  • Cyser – made with apples or cider. I am making one of these next weekend, with some cinnamon. Sort of baked apples perhaps.
I wouldn’t know nearly as much as I do about mead and what it can be if it wasn’t for Michael Fairbrother and Moonlight Meadery. I’ve already said many glowing things about Michael and Moonlight Meadery in this blog, but they are all very much deserved. The breadth of styles and flavors presented in the products really does offer something for everyone; also representing a lesson in the varied styles of mead. Michael is a passionate meadmaker and business person who regularly tells me in a humble and unassuming way that the growth and interest in this very new business has been way beyond his original expectations. Moonlight is growing and expanding rapidly, outgrowing smaller brewing equipment several times just this year, seeing a deluge of orders and starting to add full-time staff to answer the call of the thirsty consumer. Moonlight Meadery is the first winery in New Hampshire to have distribution in California. Michael and his award winning meads came from the community of home brewers in New Hampshire, aptly named Brew Free or Die, a group he continues to support and give back to. 

( Micheal Fairbrother explaining to my parents how the meads are made. )

The best way to continue to shower Moonlight Meadery with well deserved accolades is to review two of their products. I’m already a convert to the meads from Moonlight, but as any frequent reader of my blog will know, I tell it like I see it and don’t say positive things just because.Check out Moonlight Meadery's full product line at


When I first had this product described to me I was pretty sure it was going to be a magical experience. Why? It is mead aged in the oak barrels that had been previously used to age Utopias, a super-premium beer from the company behind the Sam Adams brand. Knowing what aging in spent barrels has done for many beer and spirits makers I had no doubt something of interest was in store.

The mead pours a brilliant gold color with a hint of a shift to orange/brown, something I am going to guess comes from the oak aging. The nose is huge of honey, baked fruits and spices. The mouth is a bit spicy as well, with dried fruits and an obvious spirit like quality to it. There is sweetness here, but it is needed due to the complexity of the fruit and spice flavors. This is the most complex mead I have ever had and the complexity lingers straight through the finish. The perception of the alcohol is an asset in this drink, elevating it to a place where you think you are drinking aged spirits. I’ll give this a +1 in the kicks total ass category!


Pours a gold color with a slight haze. Citrus and spices (cinnamon at the very least) meet you before you can get your nose to the glass. On the palate it is sweet and spicy, a drink that made me think of after dinner sipping by the fire. I know, a romantic. But I do have a killer room with a nice view and a wood stove for the colder months. There is a good deal of orange here, that and the sweetness were things I was told to expect to come from the orange blossom honey used to make it. The cinnamon provides a warming affect, which supports all that I've said here about how and where you might enjoy it.

This is certainly a sweet finish for my Regional Wine Week enjoyment. Decadent drinks from a business that is blowing up in my home state of New Hampshire. Moonlight Meadery is located two minutes from my house so anytime people want to come pay a visit we can go taste and Moonlight and then come back to my place and raid the cellar!



Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

47 Words about New England Wine

Here are my 47 words about New England wine. It's an open invite, and we've got place for people to stay. Come one, come all, experience New England wine!

Quirky, questioning, a bit quixotic and definitely not quaestuary, the people and the wines from New England are a breed unto themselves. Grapes, fruits, honey and vegetables, we’ll make wine out of anything. Why, because we can! Come see for yourself. You must experience New England wine.



This week is Regional Wine Week, a celebration of  lesser known wine regions and their wines. All week I will be sharing the wines of the New England region, my home base and my wine enthusiast playground.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Keeping It Local – Three Wines from New Hampshire

Regional Wine Week is in full swing. Dave McIntyre got us rolling with “Why regional wine matters” and the Wine Curmudgeon weighed in with “7 things you need to know about regional wine”. Both articles are excellent introductions to the topic of regional wine, as well as thought provoking for those who continue to expand their knowledge of wines from lesser known wine regions.

Reports from field are coming in from all over the place including quite a few from Colorado, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. All the links can be found at the Regional Wine Week link page. My home region New England is represented, although it could be better represented, with the following posts; including three from me:

Glamorous Gourmet Girl, Discovering Massachusetts wines

New England
Ancient Fire wine blog, New England Wine Tasting
Ancient Fire wine blog, New England has unique wine

New Hampshire
Ancient Fire wine blog, What a harvest, Flag Hill Winery

            Vermont Wine Media, Regional wine week

All week I’ve been sharing articles from the New England region in hopes of exposing our unique wine character with the many wine explorers who know nothing of what we do in the region. With about 100 wineries, cider houses and mead makers (New England wine) in the region there is a little bit of a lot of different things to be found here.

Today I am going to present three wines from my home state of New Hampshire. These wines are locally grown and locally made, representing some of the expectations people should have for local New Hampshire wines.

Jewell Towne Vineyards Marechal Foch

Jewell Towne Vineyards is the oldest New Hampshire winery in operation having been found in the early 1990’s by Dr. Peter Oldak, a well known viticulturist and winemaker in the region.

This wine pours a garnet color with medium/low concentration much like a Pinot or Beaujolais. There are raspberries and strawberries in the nose. This Foch is present in the sweet style. When in the region and presented with Foch for tasting it is worthwhile to ask whether it is sweet or dry because both are made here. I don’t have a preference for one or the other, but this style was the first I ever had so there is a sentimental link for me. There is enough acidity to keep the sweetness in check and a bit of structure from the tannins. Foch made in this style makes for a great casual drinker and will also work with slow cooked game meats with spicy or tangy sauces.

LaBelle Winery Granite State Red

Amy LaBelle starting making wine in small batches just as I have been doing for the last 8 years. Her recent success at the LaBelle Winery, a new facility is under construction, is inspiring on those days where my mind drifts off and I think about going into the business myself.

Granite State Red is a blend of 80% New Hampshire grown Marechal Foch and 20% New Hampshire Blueberry wine. The wine is of medium concentration with a deep garnet color. Blueberries come out in the nose and the nose smells a little wild, like a good regional wine can. As opposed to the Foch above, this wine is ever so slightly sweet. There is also structure here from the Foch that is sometimes lacking, especially when it is blended with fruit wines.

Note: I went back for a second tasting and found the bottle to be actively out-gassing, possible from re-fermentation? The sharpness of the CO2 present in the wine was noticeable and off-putting so I had to dispose of the wine. This is an occasional problem with local wines which is unfortunate when trying to convey reasons for interest by others unfamiliar with the wineries. This is the first time wine from this particular winery has done this for me so I hope this won’t dissuade anyone from seeking out the wines.

Flag Hill Winery & Distillery Flag Hill White

Flag Hill Winery is the second oldest in the state and was the source of my first taste of New Hampshire wine. In my post “What a Harvest!” earlier in the week I shared my experience of working harvest at Flag Hill for the first time. I also offer a bit of history of the winery too. It was a record year for harvest and I can’t wait to see how the wines turn out down the line.

Flag Hill White is a very light white wine blend aged in oak. And there is oak. It is in the nose and shows up on the palate. If you don’t like oak in white wine, just click away then. The fruit flavors are citrus and tart white flesh, maybe unripe peach, pear or tart apple.  I also feel like there is a touch of herbs. The acidity is mellow, but present. This wine is smooth and immensely drinkable. This wine would make for a great starter for your next local wine cocktail party!

The Regional Wine Week train keeps rolling and I’m on board for the whole ride. Later today I will post what will likely be my shortest post ever, my entry into the 47 Words on Regional Wine essay (is 47 wordsreally an essay?) contest. Tomorrow I will finish my tour of regional wines with the massive success story in local New Hampshire mead, Moonlight Meadery.



Wednesday, October 12, 2011

New England Has Wine & Unique Wine Character

( Vines at Candia Vineyards in Candia, NH )

Wine in New England represents a broad range in both style and the places where they are made. Styles range from traditional table wines like Chardonnay and Merlot to wines made from cold-weather and hardy grapes like Cayuga and Marquette. You’ll also find fruit wines made from myriad local fruits, dessert wines, port style wines, sparkling wines, distilled spirits and really unique products like iced cider. Our wineries are located in all different types of settings from farm wineries situated on vineyard and orchard lands, to rural locations a bit off the beaten path, to suburban settings not far from the hustle & bustle, and at least one urban location. All together keeping it as diverse as they come!

With my ramblings above I’ve led you directly to first a product and then a winery that I think are great examples of unique wine character in New England. The product is Eden Iced Cider produced in West Charleston, Vermont, pretty far afield even for New England. The winery is Travessia Urban Winery in downtown New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Many ciders are included in the broad category of wine in New England because the alcohol content (10+% in some cases) is much more like wine than beer or typical hard cider. Eden Iced Cider in particular fits the wine category very well, and dessert wine specifically. The concentrated flavors, smooth, elegant textures and ice-wine character will grab you straight away.

I had the pleasure of trying three different Eden products recently, two of which were presented in our New England Wine Tasting event early in the month. The third product is the Eden Northern Spy Barrel Aged Iced Cider. As I mentioned in the wine tasting post linked above the flagship Eden Iced Cider product is an intense shot of apple with lots of nuance to work through. The aromas of baked apple flesh lift off the glass. The barrel aged Northern Spy version takes all of this a bit higher with more complex spices and a toasted undertone, both I presume from the wood aging. I had considered a pairing when I sat down with this bottle, sharp cheddar cheese from Vermont was my thought, but the drink alone kept my attention such that it was gone before I had broken out the cheese. I am presenting the picture of the bottle here, but sadly I forgot to take it before I emptied it, which would have given you a good idea of the deep orange/gold/brown color of the contents. You’ll just have to imagine what it looks and tastes like if you’ve never had it.

Iced cider is produced by freezing fresh pressed sweet cider, draining off the unfrozen portion leaving behind a good deal of the water present in the initial cider. The result is a concentrated apple cider with a sugar level 10-15 Brix higher than what is typical for grapes used to make dry wines. This concentrate is fermented slowly at low temperatures to produce a final alcohol content of between 8 and 11 % by volume with 12 to 15% residual sugar. From there it is stabilized, filtered and bottled like any other wine. The notable statistics on this product are that the final volume is less than ¼ of the starting volume of cider and that one 375ml bottle of iced cider requires 8lbs of apples to make!

From farms and orchards to city streets, you’ll find wine everywhere you go in New England. Travessia Urban Winery located in downtown New Bedford, Massachusetts represents the melding of an agricultural product, wine, with the urban lifestyle. New Bedford is a South Coast city in Massachusetts, not far from Rhode Island and the roads that head out on to Cape Cod. An urban winery is unique in New England despite the many large population centers we support, but is recognizable to those who have toured other wine regions, namely areas in California. I walked the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail earlier in the year and really enjoyed the mix of wine and city character.

For a small winemaking region it isn’t any surprise that there aren’t more wineries in urban settings, there are only about 100 hundred wineries in all of the six New England states! As time passes I am betting the draw to locate wineries and tasting rooms (maybe representing multiple labels) in population centers with public transit access will grow; lots of young potential patrons and access by tourists will and there are plenty of brewpubs and breweries already seeing the benefits!

Travessia focuses primarily on wines made from grapes grown in the state of Massachusetts, although not yet grown by the winery itself. All wines made from local grapes are 100% local, and wines made from grapes sourced outside the region do represent a share of the wineries total annual volume. Using this approach Travessia can produce local wines from locally available grapes, for which the quality and availability fluctuate year to year, and use out-of-region grapes to make wines so that a broad inventory is always available for customers.

I’ve also had the pleasure of trying multiple products from Travessia recently. First was the Vidal Blanc (a local wine), a wine I’ve enjoyed at a number of tastings. This wine was also reviewed in the New England Wine Tasting linked above. The second wine was the Jester Zinfandel, a wine made from grapes sourced from California. This is a pretty big Zin, in that jammy Zin zone some are familiar with. Medium concentration with a dark ruby color, the nose exudes dark red fruits some spice and oak. Full bodied and seemingly sweet from the concentration of plum and black raspberry fruit flavors, this wine is supremely drinkable. There is just enough acidity and tartness to ensure this wine isn’t fat; keeping your taste buds primed for more. There is a hint of alcohol on the finish which is otherwise clean. As I understand it the particular vintage of this wine has been sold out for some time and that a new year will be going to bottle soon. I will clearly state that I am lucky to have found this at The Urban Grape in Chestnut Hill, and if you want it you better go running because there wasn’t much left.

Travessia is also part of the Coastal Wine Trail, a wine trail in one of the only three AVA’s located in New England, the Southeastern New England Wine Growing Appellation. There are nine wineries on the trail from Langworth Farm Winery at the western edge of Rhode Island to Truro Vineyards well into the journey out on Cape Cod.

So there you have it. Unique wine character in New England. As if you didn’t already think we were strange, this might seal that deal!

This week is Regional Wine Week, a celebration of lesser known wine regions and their wines. All week I will be sharing the wines of the New England region, my home base and my wine enthusiast playground.



Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

500 Vines with Funky Names – Prospect Hill Winery Lebanon, Maine

Elvira, Edelwiess, Chancellor, Aurore, Sabrevois, Marechal Foch, Frontenac, St. Vincent, St. Croix, Landot Noir and Prairie Star. Some wine enthusiasts will recognize these as grape varieties and examples of those typically grown in cold and harsh climates like Maine. Others might think they were more likely foreign destinations or made up names. We’ll get back to the story of these grapes and the wines made from them in just a bit.

Richard and Anita Carle are the dynamic duo at the center of Prospect Hill Winery, but make no mistake; this is very much a family affair. Arriving to a full house on a warm mid-Autumn Sunday, Richard and Anita’s grandson John was my tour guide through the vineyards. I am jealous of John. I came to winemaking at 30 years of age, but John is just a teen and has been working around the vines and in the winery for more than 6 years already. By the time he comes of age to legally consume the products he has worked so hard to help create he is going to know so much! He is already passionate about his labors, professing his love for the spot where the vines are located; talking about them like his future children. We arrived the week following the completion of the harvest, which John said had come in great. As we headed back to the barn we ran into Nathan, Richard and Anita’s son. The busy day had pressed him into service giving tours and helping turnover the tasting room for new guests. He was smiling, and I suspect he knew that it would be a good day for the winery, and by extension his family. In the flurry of the tasting area Richard and Anita's daughters were hosting tastings and checking guests out.

Grapes were first planted on the property in 2002. I asked Richard how he came to grow vines and he responded with a classically funny quip that always renews my desire to dig into the stories behind the wines I enjoy. The land was originally used to pasture cows, which they slaughtered for the beef. Realizing they drank more wine than they ate beef the idea to switch to growing grapes was floated and took hold. I wonder what the cows thought of that conversation!

They started with Elvira and Edelweiss, both white grapes, and small plantings of St. Vincent and St. Croix for reds. In 2005 they established themselves commercially, producing what wine they could from the small number of mature vines. The first significant harvest was in 2007, from five red varieties in addition to the Elvira and Edelweiss. Fast forward to 2011 and there are now 500 vines in total, a number Richard says is what they feel they can manage and will work with for the time being. This brings up notable point about Richard, Anita and Prospect Hill. The operation is small in scale, but they are very clearly keeping it at the size it is by choice. It is obvious they are working on hard to make sure all the elements are in balance so they can produce a quality product and also provide a warm, friendly experience for guests. This pragmatism was refreshing to see. They could grow larger, and I bet they will in time, but they know what they have and how to make it work, something so many people wish for; and many never find.

I did some background research on a couple of the grape types to present the reasons why these types exist why they might be used in the climate found in places like Maine.

Edelweiss – Developed in 1980 at the University of Minnesota by Elmer Swenson. It is a winter-hardy variety cultivated to withstand the harsh Minnesota winters, which bear similarities to Maine. It is also strongly resistant to disease and fungus typical to grapes. It is a cross between the Minnesota 78 and Ontario grape varieties which includes Vitis labrusca parentage. This fact is significant because early, and under-ripe picking is recommended to reduce the labrusca character that many people find offensive in finished wines that exhibit it.

Marechal Foch – This grape is a hybrid developed in France in 20th century with an uncertain lineage. It is believed that it is a cross of Goldriesling, a Vitis vinifera variety, and another grape that could have both Vitis riparia and Vitis rupestris parentage. What we do know is that it is an early ripener, cold-weather hardy and resistant to fungal diseases. With small berries the threat from birds is high. This variety does see a specific improvement and likeness with traditional red wine as the vines age.

All the wines at Prospect Hill are made from estate grown grapes. Richard makes the case for this being a local winery very plain, invoking the word terroir in the process. While wineries elsewhere do make other choices with regards to the source of fruit, keeping it hyper-local is something he is passionate about. We talked briefly about how the desire to grow and expand business into things like a restaurant, event facility, etc. can put pressure on wineries resulting in non-estate wines. This is something that is understood as a choice, but not one without concerns.

I tasted 8 wines during my visit.All the wines are dry and naturally acidic, which translates into healthy tartness. The whites are from the 2010 vintage and the reds, except for the last, were from the 2009 vintage.

I started with the Elvira. I found this wine to have a citrus driven nose, grapefruit was the predominant aroma I could identify. In the mouth I found tart apples and more citrus, this time lemon. This wine is very tart and crisp without being grapey.

The Edelweiss was next. The grape comes out in the wine, and its origin as a table grape is consistent with this. It is also citrus driven and again tart and crisp. This wine is very smooth despite the high level of acidity and tartness. I could see many summer days sipping on this wine being just right.

The next wine, Edelvira, is a blend of the first two grapes. It is again dry, crisp and tart with abundant citrus. The balance was a bit off, but after tasting the Edelweiss and liking it, I could have been biased.

We moved on to the reds. Frontenac was up first. I have had Frontenac quite a few times so the nose was easily recognizable to me. It's a bit wild with cherries. The cherry comes back in the mouth and with the generous acidity comes off as tart cherries without a doubt. There are hints of oak in the nose, but they don't linger into the palate. Richard explained that they use oak chips versus barrel aging for their red wines. I'm familiar with this from my own wine-making and know that it does give the winemaker fine grained control on the oak for small batches of wine. The tannins are a little coarse, but for a 2009 this is reasonable to expect.

The Prospect Hill Red is a blend of Frontenac & Foch. The Frontenac nose pops up again, but the difference in the mouth is easily noticeable. The fruits are darker in this one, including plum and blackberry. The tannins are a bit more smoother and the balance of this wine is in a good place.

Next up was the Foch by itself. It is a softer wine than the Frontenanc, something I prefer this grape for. Hints of cherry and dry soil in the nose and mouth. Despite the high acidity it is very smooth and seriously drinkable.

The Harvest Red is another blend, this time of St. Vincent and Frontenac. This time the Frontenac nose was amped up with more fruit and that translated to the mouth. Lots of cherry and berries. The tannins are noticeable in this wine, suggesting some aging time for softening would see an enhanced drinking experience.

The last wine was the 2008 Chancellor. The nose on this wine is huge, full of dark fruits like plum and blackberry. The fruit is a solid player right through the finish making it a true full bodied wine. I found it to be very smooth with an obvious drying and aging from the year of additional age compared to the other reds. The tannins are smooth and provide a noticeable structure to the wine. This was the winner of the day for me!

A little over a week ago Margot and I hosted an all New England wine tasting. Unfortunately Maine didn’t show very well, and I knew we needed to seek out additional wines to try to help us better contextualize what Maine could do. I met the Carle’s a few years ago at a trade event where they were pouring their Foch. It had grabbed me then and during my search for wines to include in the tasting I had checked on the availability of wine from Prospect Hill. Their wines are only available at the winery and they don’t ship. You have to visit to taste and to buy wines to bring home. For a small winery with a good story, this is really the way to go.

One of the best problems small businesses can have is seeing their product fly off the shelves. As I was finishing the tasting of the whites, with the Edelweiss being my favorite, it was determined that the last customer to leave had purchased the remaining bottle of Edelweiss, meaning there would be no more available until the spring next year. I was bummed, but so happy for Prospect Hill. Their size is manageable for them and they often sell out before they close up for the winter. The Edelweiss was added to list of wines sold out for the year that already included Prairie Star, Aurore and their Prospect Hill White.

We did take home two bottles of the 2008 Chancellor. The additional year of bottle aging had shown development of the structure and texture of the wine over the younger reds, and I felt it was the best of example of the potential in Maine wines I had yet come across.

This week is Regional Wine Week, a celebration of  lesser known wine regions and their wines. All week I will be sharing the wines of the New England region, my home base and my wine enthusiast playground.



Monday, October 10, 2011

What a Harvest!- Flag Hill Winery, Lee New Hampshire

Grapes have been grown on the site of what is now Flag HillWinery & Distillery in Lee, NH for over 20 years. The way proprietor Frank Reinhold told it this past Saturday, this was the biggest harvest they’ve seen in those years. Flag Hill’s first commercial vintage was in 1996, with vineyard acreage and annual production steadily increasing since.

On a beautiful hot & sunny day, reminiscent of summer and not Columbus Day weekend, 225 volunteers fanned out in the vineyards picking Cayuga White and Marechal Foch grapes, totaling about 5 acres. Frank was keeping score and we broke a couple records. The first acre of Cayuga was cleared in 19 minutes! We also cleared more acreage in the time it required than ever before. The volumes harvested for each were in 1500-2000 gallon range, something they were expecting based on the great growing season and the amount of fruit hanging on the vines. In his opening remarks Frank used the phrase “freakin’ lot of fruit” to describe the task at hand. As I understand it that is a technical phrase used by experienced winery owners during harvest in good years.

( First acre of Cayuga almost picked clean! )

Picking was so busy in the first couple of hours that full lugs started stacking up and pickers had to wait for the roundtrips to winery for freshly empty lugs to keep working. There was lots of socialization in the vineyards as we all worked, and I consistently heard kind words about Flag Hill, from people’s favorite wines, Vignoles came up a lot, to quality of the food at the restaurant and finally how great the staff is.

( Lots of worker bees, and regular bees too! )

You see, this was the 17th annual Flag Hill Harvest Festival and this annual tradition draws many loyal Flag Hill fans. They really do get to know the people, the wines and the food of Flag Hill. As we assembled in the morning there were games and music, and after the job was done there was revelry over glasses of Flag Hill wine and plenty of that excellent food to refuel the legion of pickers. I had never participated in the harvest festival before, having fallen way down on the wait list in past years, and while the work was hard the enjoyment of meeting new people and seeing the amount of buzz they represented for a local winery made it well worth it.

Margot and I are pretty sure wine from Flag Hill was the first wine from New Hampshire we ever had, but we can’t remember when and where for sure. We’ve visited the winery several times for tastings, sipped our way through the first annual Live Free & Wine Festival, held at Flag Hill in 2010, and got our first taste of the food at a New Hampshire Winery Association dinner a few years ago. In 2007 when were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary we stopped at Flag Hill for a tasting and to pick up some wine to enjoy over our weekend away. I have a couple favorites, including the Marechal Foch and the Flag Hill White, a gently oaked light white wine. Flag Hill has expanded its product line in the years we’ve been getting to know them, which now includes vodka, liquers, port style wines and lots of local fruit wines. During his lunchtime address Frank Reinhold mentioned that the bourbon whiskey is in the barrels and will be released all its own time. I’ve been looking forward to trying this new product for some time!

One of the interesting twists of the Harvest festival I was looking forward to was the release of the celebratory wine made from the 2010 harvest, named Les Pieds Sucre. The wine was made from a blend of Marechal Foch and Niagara. It is a slightly sweet red blend with a pleasant fruity nose from the Niagara grapes, and a healthy share of acidity and structure from the Foch. It was the perfect wine to toast the efforts of the group and to a great harvest for a beloved local winery.

At lunch I met the Lynch & Sell families scoping out Flag Hill, the site of the wedding of their children Sean & Megan next September 8th. Working the harvest was certainly a great length to go to learn something about the facility, but being able to try the food and wine afterwards clearly left them with a positive impression. I was flying solo this day so the lucky break for me to meet and enjoy lunch with them as they talked about their future plans was a true joy. Sean and Megan reminded me of Margot and I, oddly opposite though, and the big laugh was that Megan is “very specific”. There’s nothing wrong with that, really there isn’t!!! Best wishes to Sean & Meghan on their new life together and to both the Lynch and Sell families as they look forward to many happy years ahead.

( Tom, Donna & Sean Lynch with Megan, Karen and Garry Sell )

After lunch there were more activities including a grape stomp, yes with people’s feet, t-shirt painting and an up-close view of grapes being processed and pumped into the waiting tanks. The grape stomping created lots of laughs and there were plenty of folks who wanted to get purple and red feet painted on the back of their shirts to commemorate another exciting harvest.

( Stomp those grapes! )

As I watched the vineyard and winery staff scurry around tending to all the must being pumped out of the crusher I could only imagine how many more long days they still have ahead to get the harvest completed and the wines well on their way to the finished state. It’s times like these that I appreciate the work that I go through to make my own wines, but feel lucky that I’m just dealing with 6-10 gallons per batch!

This week is Regional Wine Week and I will be publishing articles on wines local to me all week. Tomorrow I will share my visit to Prospect Hill Winery in Lebanon Maine. Later in the week I will share tasting notes on wines from Vermont, Massachusetts and my home state of New Hampshire.

I urge everyone to get out an celebrate the wines of their region this week. You might be surprised to find more than you expected or something new and interesting to try.



Thursday, October 6, 2011

Autumn, Oktoberfest & Pumpkin Beer Shootout Round 2

The Ancient Fire Wine Blog has been nominated for a Foodbuzz Blog Award in the Best Single Topic category. Please vote for us and other great Foodbuzz blogs at Voting is open until October 17th, 2011.

In the first round, read the wrap-up post, we sampled eight Autumn, Oktoberfest and Pumpkin beers and picked two winner, one each from the Autumn/Brown Ale and Pumpkin beer styles. We’ve sample the second round of eight and picked two more winners in the same fashion.

Overall what have we learned from this experience? First, seasonal beers come in two varieties. You have the serious beers that are crafted to reflect an interpretation of the season, and for us in New England this means cool days, yard work and hearty meals. Included in this category are also those beers that channel pumpkin and spices as they are typically used this time of year. What you have leftover are those beers than are made to take advantage of the seasonal beer theme, but don’t really have distinguishing characteristics and/or lack balance within the style. I’ll leave it to the reader to glean which are which from the reviews here and those we published from round 1.

We also learned that even with a halthy range of origins for the 16 beers (NH, ME, VT, MA, CO, CA, DE and NY) one state really shined, Maine! The fact that Maine is the source of good beer is nothing new for me, but to take 3 of the 4 spots in our unscientific survey was a surprise.

Which beers won in this round?

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin and Breckenridge After Rakin’ Autumn Ale!  The Smashed Pumpkin is in my experience the most talked about pumpkin beer this time of year in New England. It is made in limited quantities and goes fast. Our autumn/brown ale winner once again projected significant roasted malt, nut and caramel flavors with a touch of smoke. It is very full bodied and finishes clean.

Reviews Beer by Beer

Pours a medium amber color with a light brown head. Malt, spices and fruit are presented in the nose. The beer is flavored with apple, which you can pick out pretty easily. Lots of cinnamon, almost too much. (Jason) Drinking several of these could be a problem with the level of cinnamon. The apple ducks out in the middle and then comes back on the finish. This beer is ever so slightly sweet. From New Hampshire

Pours and orange/gold color with a tan head. A bit hazy. It smells mildly like baked squash, but it might not if you didn’t know it was a pumpkin beer. It has a savory element to the taste, a little herbaceous, with some fleshiness from the squash and subtle hops & acidity in the finish. From Massachusetts.

This beer pours an amber color and is brilliantly clear. Watching the columns of bubbles in the glass was captivating. The head is light brown with a red shift and is creamy on the tongue. It tastes of lightly spiced pumpkin pie and has some vegetal character to it. The spices are restrained. Some toasted malt comes through on the finish. Way better than the Sam Adams Oktoberfest! From Massachusetts.

Pours and orange/gold color with a slight haze. Off-white head that lingers a bit. Grains in the nose, not very malty. Margot said hints of cranberry and oatmeal in the nose. I didn’t get that, but hey, she’s weird, and that’s why I like her! The flavors are a bit toasted and the hops make an appearance. We both said there was something funky, not a good funky either, in the latter part and finish. From Vermont.

Orange/gold in color. Aromas of apple, spices and what smells like potato (assuming that is the squash). A bit sweet with some tartness, but only notable for the fact that is it unusual. Not our bag. From Vermont.

Margot says “Kickass Name!” The beer pours brown with a light brown head that sticks around. The nose is full of roasted nuts and malt which continue in the mouth. There is a hint of smoke and no real hop influence. The finish is clean and pleasant. From Colorado

Pours and orange/gold color with an off-white head. We both found malt and dried fruit in the nose. There is lots of carbonation in this beer, but very mild malt and nut flavors. You could use this for pairing where the beer wasn’t expected to add much or take much way, but it isn’t terribly interesting on its own. From New York.

This beer pours an orange/gold color with an off-white head that quickly disappears. I picked up baked pumpkin in the nose and a slight sweet smell. Margot said the aromas were like spiced pumpkin custard. Pretty creative, eh? Both of thought this was the closest of all the pumpkin beers to pumpkin pie. Pumpkin, spice, malt and some hops all come together in the mouth. It does have just enough sweetness to tend in the pie direction, and the pumpkin and spice flavors travel along for the finish. Very well balanced and smooth. From Maine.

What Next?

We hosted a tasting of winter & holiday beers at our holiday open house last year.  Read our tasting notes in “Fifth Annual Holiday Open House” and whet your appetite for the upcoming release of many of those beers for a new year.

Be careful with seasonal beers, not all of them stack up after you give them a taste. If you can buy a mixed pack of single bottles from a local beer shop that will be a smartest way to try several beers first to find one or more you want to slot in for your seasonal drinking.