Monday, December 31, 2012

Ancient Fire Cellar Update

I'm going to end the year with the type of post that was the genesis for this blog, a cellar update. I shared a year in review, the Top 10 Ancient Fire Moments of 2012, last week and while that highlighted all types of adventures Ancient Fire, what's bubbling away or aging in the cellar is the passion and the heart of what I am all about.

There is definitely lots going on at Ancient Fire these days. I'm going review the home fermentation projects of just the last few months and also share hints at where we will be going in 2013.

( Grenache grapes from Central Valley, CA. )

The Fall harvest netted two batches of local Concord grapes, Vermont blackberries and juice/grapes from the Central Valley in California. Several different fermentations were undertaken including my first pyment (grape/honey wine), a blend of French Colombard juice, Muscat grapes and orange blossom honey. The Concord grapes will be made into two Rosés, a red pyment and the leftovers were already made into a spiced holiday wine similar to a Swedish Glogg or German Gluewhein. I also fermented the remainder of my wildflower honey for use in meads, some of which will be infused with tea and other spices. A Syrah/Grenache (CA) blend will hopefully produce a straightforward dry red wine that I can enjoy with a range of foods in a year’s time. The remainder of the Colombard and Thompson seedless grapes were used to make a white blend that will be our house wine in 2013. The Central Valley Cabernet Franc is going to be used in both a red pyment with the remainder bottled on its own.

We didn’t brew any beer again after the Stout/Porter experiments and my fresh hopped ale at the end of the summer, but we have plenty of plans for new brews in 2013.

Two days ago I brewed two barleywines, my first ever, both of which should be in prime drinking form for Fall/Winter 2013. I brewed in the snow as you can see from the picture to the left. I'm the Postal Service of brewing I guess. These are big beers (lots of malt) and the blow-off tubes are already outgassing like mad.

In 2012 I already have plans for a Scotch Ale, an Imperial Pilsen style ale, a Belgian Dubbel, a Belgian Wit and a Weizenbock. I would also expect a new edition of our Lime Ale to be made just before the summer party season kicks in. Two braggots are also on the docket, one a Belgian/Saison style and the other with some form of black or dark brown ale as the base.

The most recent cellar enhancement project at  Ancient Fire was the installation of wine racks to store the growing cellar of commercial wines. The short video below captures the current inventory and shows off the new storage space. 

All of the carboys (containers in the pool) are the conclusion of the 2012 production, including all of the libations described above. My cellar is more organized now which makes "shopping" in the basement all the more fun!

The only wine I plan to make in 2013 is strawberry, and only if the local crop is worthy. This decision is based on a couple of factors. First, I've got lots of wine inventory, both commercial and homemade to drink, and I'm saving my resources for a new special project late in the year.

Ancient Fire cider is going to make a big comeback in 2013. I've made cider in five different years, but it has been a while (2009) since I made one I was happy with. The 2012 cider that was a blend of local sweet cider, pears and ginger smells like a chemical lab and is likely going to be dumped. I can't say what went wrong there, but I plan to get back on track with cider when the season comes around again next year. The picture to the right is fresh cider flowing out of a tote that my brewing club purchased in 2011. I made a couple decent ciders from it. 

The rough vision is to source cider from several orchards including both dessert blends and traditional cider styles. Leading up to cider season I also hope to acquire several once-used whiskey barrels that will be used to age some of the cider. And don't be surprised if a cyser (apple/honey blend) also makes an appearance. Other ideas include a second attempt at an apple/pear blend, hopped cider and fruit/ apple blends. Definitely lots to look forward to!

In the meantime I've got lots of blending and bottling to do which why I've been furiously cleaning bottles this past week. The stack of bottles in my garage was the largest it had ever been, but thankfully it has almost been converted from dirty to clean or recycled bottles.  I've developed a special relationship with my dishwasher this week, let's hope it doesn't get tired of my willful (mis-) use of it and walk out on me!

Happy New Year to all. I hope everyone finds a delicious beverage in their glass tonight. Raise that glass high and make a joyful sound. We've earned it! Be safe and see you in 2013.



Friday, December 28, 2012

My Half Full Glass - Christmas Edition

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I'm sharing a special edition of My Half Full Glass this week. There was a fair bit of drinking at my house over the Christmas holiday. But I didn't do the majority of it. I know that is what some of you were thinking. 

By the time the day after Christmas came we had entertained at least forty people, and they all enjoyed something different. When I overheard guests talking up something from the bar I made a point to take a taste it and find out what the buzz was all about.

The Whiskey Bar

I put together a whiskey bar for the first day of our holiday open house. It was a smash hit! I selected several Bourbons, two Scotches, a Canadian, an Irish and a Rye whiskey as base liquors. Next to those bottles I placed sweet vermouth, simple syrup, Drambuie, ginger ale, bitter and garnish.

Above the bar I listed the recipes for popular whiskey cocktails, specifically the Manhattan, Sazerac, Old Fashioned, Rob Roy and Rusty Nail. As guests arrived I let them know to serve themselves. I had expected it to be a fun way to make the bar work during a busy party, and I was right. Other than refilling the ice I never had to make the drinks or help guests navigate the bar. I wholeheartedly suggest this trick for your next party. I repeated the same format with gin the next day, but with a smaller crowd I didn't see as much activity. The only regret is that I didn't take any pictures of either bar. I guess you had to be there!

Two Orange/Vanilla Meads Walk Into a Bar

The opportunity to try the recently released Moonlight Meadery Summer Love side by side with my own version (a new attempt using the recipe that Moonlight also riffed on) came during our Christmas celebrations. I didn't taste them blind so the feedback can be assumed to contain some bias. To be fair I don't care which one people like more, both are a source of pride for me and when someone smiles drinking one of them, I win!

The overwhelming feedback focused on two key differences between these meads. The first is that the Moonlight version is a bit spicier and that bite came across as a sharp edge to some. Having used Tupelo honey, and not Orange Blossom as I did, an element of spiciness is to be expected.

The second difference, and the one that got the most attention, is that my version was perceived to be creamier and smoother. I again recognize this difference, but in this case don't know why and furthermore how I might reproduce it in another iteration. Food for thought.

Everyone who tried both meads found the experience interesting. For my friends who have been with me along this nearly ten year journey the existence of a commercial product that I had influence on is not a surprise, although it feels like a long time coming for my most faithful fans.

Not Bud Light Lime

One of the Ancient Fire Top 10 Moments of 2012 was riffing on Bud Light Lime after finding refuge with one on the Kid Rock Cruise. This beer has officially exceeded any expectations I would ever have for homebrew. With just enough of a sour kick, this beer brings so much to tickle the palate. 

The base beer is a very simple wheat ale, and is ridiculously easy to make. I make can two of them in just over 3 hours. This is a great summer beer and will likely pop up on the late spring brewing schedule for just that season of enjoyment. Keep an eye for summer party invites, especially if I mention the lime ale.

Strawberry Riesling Wine

My niece Ashley gets a mention this week. She loves my homemade wine. She specifically likes my fruit wines and this is huge for me, because I always hope they come so good that smiles are assured. These wines tend to be the freshest and most interesting wines I make primarily because the fruit is fresh and the composition is more elaborate than a typical grape wine. Ashley, thank you for being such a huge fan, it really does mean a lot!

Over the Christmas holiday I opened no less than five bottles of my Strawberry Riesling wine made in 2011. This wine was a project hatched after talking to my mother about a similar wine she enjoyed on a vacation to I can't remember where. To make it I took half of a recipe for my flagship Strawberry wine and for the other half I used fresh Riesling juice. The result was a hugely drinkable, light, fruity wine that is medium to off-dry with moderate character.

As we sail into the New Year holiday I wish you all a happy and safe end to the year. It would be irresponsible not to mention that making arrangements for transportation, designated driver, cab, etc, is a must during those crazy New Year's celebrations. Have fun, be safe and get home to start the new year with maybe only a headache.



Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Half Full Glass – December 27th, 2012

Hermann Wiemer 2010 Magdalena Dry Riesling

The team at Hermann J. Wiemer in the Finger Lakes are producers of world class wines. I’ve visited them twice, tasted the wines several times so I know this first hand. There isn’t anything I’ve had from them that didn't make me reflect on how lucky I am to be able to enjoy their products.

Earlier this year I placed an order (a refill if you will) that included several bottles of the 2010 Magdalena Dry Riesling. I had seen a recommendation for it from Lenn Thompson of the New York Cork Report. The description of it made me think of wine at a whole other level than I knew from the producer, and I knew I must try it for myself. Soon after the wine arrived, and I immediately forgot about it. I was reminded of it by Lenn again this week, but this time I opened one.

This wine is an impeccable example of what top notch Riesling tastes like. It is labeled as dry, and I maintain that it is, but it is the most luscious and textural domestic dry Riesling that I have ever had. The nose is captivating, pushing forth both fruit and mineral components. Everything after the first sniff builds even higher. The body of the wine almost feels like a light syrup and the flavors of citrus, pear, peach and accessible and refined. I could say many more good things about this wine, but I believe I've said enough to convey my fondness for it.

Ancient Fire Spiced Wine

I’ll admit up front that I haven’t consumed much of this homemade batch of wine yet. I should also disclose that is a second wine, one made from fresh grape leftovers, and that is was infused with spices and orange. Some of you might be asking yourself “why would he do this?” Because I can. The grapes were softly pressed and still minimally viable, so I decided not to throw out what I could use. I modeled the result after Swedish Glogg or German Gluwhein, except that I put everything needed to serve it in the bottle, obviating the need for the mulling process.

Warming it before service is my suggested method, and depending on how much of the added sweetness was retained, a little bit more may be added. The base of the wine is Concord grapes and it is very purple in color. The spices, allspice, cinnamon and clove, as well as the orange are present in the nose. The wine trends quite tart, although the sweetness in the middle to finish should mitigate the perception of the tartness. The final blend did also include some dry table wine to bring the body up a bit. I used some homemade Malbec and Tempranillo from 2010 to achieve this.

A simple wine with a punch-like character, it should do nicely as a winter warmer with no strings attached. I don’t plan on any serious consideration of it, and if you are lucky enough to try some, I don’t expect you to give it a formal tasting either.



Monday, December 24, 2012

Top Ten Ancient Fire Moments in 2012

My friend Richard Auffrey has gotten me in the mood to offer something of a year in review. Each year in his blog entitled The Passionate Foodie Richard shares "top ten" lists in a number of different categories. I'm not prepared for that. And I'm not sure I'd just go and steal that idea, especially from someone who executes it so well. I'm a different guy which means I need to do something different.

As a beverage blogger I also stick my neck out on a weekly basis, offering my thoughts on drinks, food and occasionally the beverage business. I'm also the producer of award-winning home fermentations and do a fair bit of travel in search of new and interesting beverages. Taking all of this together it occurred to me that the highlights from those adventures in 2012 might make for interesting reading. If not, at least it will satisfy a sense of vanity having shared a bunch of "I did that" moments. Choosing what of my adventures should make the list and in which order they should go in was hard. Don't read too much into it. So here goes!

#10 - Kid Rock and Bud Light Lime

Margot and I went on the Kid Rock Chillin' The Most Cruise this year. Four days of music and partying. Of course that meant we saw, and to a lesser degree participated in, quite a bit of consumption. And not necessarily the good stuff. I'm not a Bud/Miller/Coors fan, but one of the nights I enjoyed a Bud Light Lime whilst sitting out on the deck watching the party rage on. Margot asked what I thought of it, it wasn't my first one but I think she was making some fun conversation, and I ultimately quipped that I could make a much better version of the beer at home. And in fact I did with an overwhelmingly positive response! The beer turned out to be one of our most well received brews of 2012. You might think it would be a warm-weather-only beer but it turns out that it is a very smooth drinker and is also good with food. We served it at our two-day Christmas party that wrapped up last night, proving that it even brings a smile in cold weather. Kid Rock is right, sometimes it is "the simple things in life, like when and where."

#9 - Award Winning Fruit Wine Making Tips

I was invited to speak at the WineMaker Magazine Conference again this year. The topic in 2012 was tips for making award winning fruit wines, something I am happy to say I have done five years in a row. I live in an area with lots of farms and farm markets so access to ripe and fresh fruit is something I am blessed to have. Fresh, ripe fruit is one of the most important requirements for making good fruit wine. On top of that you also need creativity, curiosity and a taste for fruit wines. During the 75 minute session the questions were rapid fire and I struggled to keep up with it all. Being able to share the breadth of experiences this occasion allowed was a real delight. The sharing from members of the audience was not lost on me and several projects later in the year were inspired by their participation.

#8 - Roses & Gold - A Man's Best Friend

In 2011, for the second time, I made a Rosé style wine from Concord grapes grown in a friend's yard. I didn't set out to make a sophisticated wine, rather I endeavored to use the fresh grapes to make a bright pink, slightly sweet wine that would put smiles on a lot of people's faces. The first attempt had come out OK, but the result in 2011 wowed everyone who tasted it. The grapes were more ripe and my basic process for making it resulted in a hugely pleasurable wine. Wanting to get feedback on my new wine I entered it into the WineMaker Magazine annual competition.

I was present at the award ceremony and as the first couple of categories were called none of the winners were present. When they got to the Concord wine category there were winners for Bronze and Silver, but again no winners were present. When the Gold medals were announced my name was called. What a great way to kick off my competition results, by both winning a Gold medal AND the first medal awarded in person that night. When I later reviewed the judging notes I found that I scored highly in color, aroma, flavor AND overall impression. I had scored big with a well made, balanced and delicious wine!

#7 - Tasting a Flight of Homemade Strawberry Wines

We can't move on from the WineMaker Magazine conference trip before sharing one more Ancient Fire Moment. In 2010 I attended my first WineMaker Magazine Conference and during that trip I shared my homemade strawberry wine. I went on to win gold medal for that wine. Once word had spread about the wine I also fielded a number of requests for the recipe and tips for making it, which I happily shared. In 2011 I didn't medal for my strawberry wine at this same competition, but was happy to see that I was back on track in 2012 with a Gold medal. This wine has been a special project for me since 2006, and the only one that I really feel like I "know" how to make from experience.

( Brother Mark, me, Amy and Brant comparing notes on homemade Strawberry wine. 
Thank you to Tim Vandergrift for this great photo with Daniel Pambianchi photo-bombing us! )

During the 2012 conference swap meet I was approached by two of the winemakers who had asked me about my recipe and process for the strawberry wine. And each of them was brandishing a bottle. With my own bottle in hand an impromptu comparative tasting was undertaken. What an amazing experience! All three of us made something a little bit different, due to both production choices and that we live in three different locations, each with access to different fruit. We each shared our production process and contrasted how what we knew about how the wines were made might have influenced the distinct outcomes. Some experiences make you realize you have found your people, and this one screamed it!

#6 - Staring at the Pacific Ocean from the Rocky Cliffs of the Oregon Coast

Living close the coastline we are a bit spoiled. With only a short drive we can walk along the New England shore and stare out at the Atlantic Ocean beyond. In 2012 my pursuit of new wine experiences took us to the Portland, Oregon area for the Wine Bloggers Conference. I had heard that the Oregon coastline was absolutely beautiful, very different in appearance to New England and not to be missed. On a day after the conference Margot and I planned a trip out to the coast. The drive itself was quite beautiful, first through the farmland of the upper Willamette Valley, then through the big pines of the Van Duzer Forest Scenic Area and finally the coast. Wow! The rocky cliffs and abrupt end to the land at the Western edge of Oregon is breathtaking. We stopped in many places along the way to take it all in.

#5 - Friendly Faces

In the last several years I've met a number of other area wine & food writers with whom I have forged stronger ties since. Being able to spend time exploring the world of food & drink with them this year certainly wasn't just one experience, but these moments would not be fairly exchanged for any object of value, they are the stuff life is made of.

So as I look back at another exciting year, I wish the happiest of times to Richard Auffrey (Passionate Foodie), Adam Japko (Wine Zag), Marie Payton (Life of Vines) and Todd Traskos (Vermont Wine Media). I can't wait to be out drinking and eating with all of my friends again in 2013!

#4 - Collaborating with Moonlight Meadery

Pro-am collaborations in the brewing world have been news-worthy in the last couple of years. I've always thought it was a pretty neat concept, but didn't believe I had ever made anything that might be of interest to a commercial producer. Then I made an orange and vanilla infused mead. And it took a top place in a regional competition. Michael Fairbrother from Moonlight Meadery asked if I was interested in commercializing the recipe. Really? Are you serious? I really did ask those questions. And the answer to both was yes.

A new mead named Summer Love recently went into the bottle and has been flying off the shelves from what I hear. The experience of making a mead based on a recipe of my own with Michael and the team at Moonlight was so much fun, something I would have never dreamed of.

#3 - Fighting Cancer with Wine

For a number of years now my Relay For Life team has hosted wine tastings to raise funds in the fight against cancer. In 2012 the team reached a new milestone in our efforts, having eclipsed $100,000 raised since 2003. (Not all of this was raised through wine tastings.)  In the context of larger fundraising efforts, $100K isn't a huge number, but when you consider it was raised by a group averaging 10 people each year, and in a very grass roots fashion you start to see why it is significant. When I first started making beer & wine I never imagined I would be able to combine it with a message of hope and do so much good in this world. I shared the history and current activities of my Relay For Life team in a series of posts this year, the most information I have shared about Relay and my fundraising efforts since the inception of my blog. My Relay thank you post, after the 2012 event, sums up the year we had and includes the link list to all the stories I shared. If you haven't read them I encourage you to spend the time. The people that stand with me in this fight are very dear to me, and sharing their stories was one of my fondest memories of the year.

I never set out to be recognized for my efforts fighting cancer, but awareness of my passion spread and recognition came nonetheless. In 2012 I was honored with a Mass General One Hundred Award. This award is given to individuals whose efforts in the battle against cancer have impacted lives and advanced the cause in a meaningful way. I was nominated by a friend (anonymously so this was a surprise) who felt my passion and energy deserved to be shared. Marie, thank you again for helping create a moment that made 2012 an incredible year for me!

#2 - Last Man Standing

There have been several competition moments in this top 10 list. All together it might seem like I am hugely competitive and getting recognition from competition is a primary motivator for me and my homemade creations. Not exactly. Competitions generate feedback and that feedback is hugely useful in determining what I am getting right and what I getting wrong. Adding the response from tastings to competition feedback gives me a more complete picture of how I am doing. I win in competition less than half the time I enter and the feedback is at least as useful when I don't win as when I do. I'm not actually as competitive as it might appear.

( Watching the Best in Show judging at the NERHBC was both exciting and nerve wracking. )

Winning Best in Show and Meadmaker of the year were highlights for me because they confirmed that the hard work and resources that I plugged into my projects in the last year were very well spent. I guess you could say I've learned a thing or two and I've used those lessons to get better. This type of recognition is motivating and that is why this was one of the top Ancient Fire moment in 2012.

#1 - Sharing My Creations

This isn't so much of a moment as it is the aspect of my mad science that brings me the most joy each year.

Trust me, all the hard work that goes into the beverages I make has to be followed with something fun or it really wouldn't be worth all the time! I love sharing the beverages that I make. Only a few of my friends recall family members who made their own beer or wine and most often the stories trend towards "it wasn't very good."  I think home brewing and wine-making has come a long way and while it still takes lots of hard work, I am always pleased to see these same people react so positively to my beverages. There is truly something special when you can hang out with friends drinking home brew, whether it be my own or someone else's. I make a lot of different beverages, and much more than I can drink. Sharing my beverages at tastings and as gifts brings me great joy and helps with my "inventory problem!"

( Margot and I brewing up another batch of beer to share with friends. Cheers! )

To my family, friends, co-workers and neighbors I wish you the very best during this holiday season. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Friday, December 14, 2012

My Half Full Glass – December 13th, 2012

Explore the many French wine varieties and enjoy.

Some notable sips from the last couple of weeks.

Paumanok Vineyards North Fork of Long Island 2010 Grand Vintage Chardonnay

The Empire State Cellars Wine Club has really been delivering for me. I don't know the club curator (Lenn Thompson of the New YorkCork Report) well enough to think that we have the same tastes in wine, but based on the success of this particular bottle I think we are pretty close.

The Paumanok 2010 Grand Vintage Chardonnay is bottled using the Grand Vintage name which refers to the special nature of the wine as designated by the producer. Specifically, it is made using the free-run juice of the ripest batches of Chardonnay from the vintage and is fermented in new French oak.

The wine is elegant on the palate with a mild toasted and nutty profile and a creamy finish. The fruit isn't hidden with oak, rather the fruit flavors taste like something you would find in a pastry or other baked, sweet treat. The finish is dry (it is a tad round, but not sweet by my definition) and lingers a bit allowing the texture to be savored. I drank this wine on its own the first night, and quite happily, then fiddled around with a couple different dinner pairings, none of which were worth highlighting. 

Martha Q's Low & Slow Smoked Ale

I met Sean Hopkins who owns the LobsterQ Restaurant in Hampstead, NH earlier this year. My foodie friend Richard Auffrey had connected with him previously and asked if I knew of the restaurant. I didn't, so we planned a visit to check out the joint. I enjoyed the food, people and atmosphere then and I have enjoyed the same several times since. But, let's fast forward a bit.

A few months ago Hopkins (should we call him Q or Mr. Q?) was tweeting about making a collaboration beer with Martha's Exchange in Nashua, NH. A smoked beer was the plan and Sean was hoping to smoke the grains at the restaurant to give the beer a firm LobsterQ profile.  I was intrigued and looked forward to the release so I could give it a whirl.

( Greg Oullette, the brewer for Martha's and Sean Hopkins of LobsterQ. )

That time came, and to celebrate the release LobsterQ held a private event to debut the beer, named Martha Q's Low & Slow.  Low & Slow was paired with great people, food and music from two members of the Tom Dixon Band. The event was lively, fun and the only downside was that I had arrived home from vacation not even 24 hours earlier and was feeling a bit spent.

How about the beer? Martha Q's Low & Slow is a mellow smoked ale, one that folks who don't normally like smoked beers might enjoy. In a Facebook review for both Martha's & LobsterQ I said: " Martha Q's Low & Slow - slow cooked meats & sweet tobacco meet in a bar... damn fine smoked ale. mellow and hugely drinkable. Bravo!" The beer pairs well with BBQ, but I also found it melded nicely with fish & fries. The beer was made in a small run and is available on tap at both Martha's and LobsterQ while it lasts.  

I'll Have Me A 'Gansett

I'm too young to say anything nostalgic about Narragansett beers. I've had the recent incarnation of several of their brews and have been pleasantly surprised. 

I tried the Narragansett Bock last week and was excited for the mellow balance of sweet malts & grains. The finish is clean and crisp. This beer isn't anything special, not requiring you to savor or study it; and that I think is its virtue. It isn't tasteless, light colored swill but also isn't something uber-crafty that requires a PhD in beer to understand. 



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Winners of the Boston Wine Expo Passes

Last week I announced a drawing for two passes to the 2013 Boston Wine Expo. Traffic to the post was decent, but there were only three comments, and a comment was required to be entered to win. The upside for the three people that did comment is that their chances of winning were pretty darned good!

In a random drawing the winners were Elizabeth Smith and Kurt Grausam! I will be contacting the winners privately to get their free pass on the way to them.

Thank you to all the people who viewed my post (too bad many chose not to enter) and to the three entrants for helping me give away the passes. The Boston Wine Expo is a fun event and I look forward to attending it myself so I can explore more of the world of wine!



p.s. Yes I know I am a day late announcing the winners, but that is just how the busy holiday season is turning out for me!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Epcot Food & Wine Festival – November 2012

The trip I took to Florida during which I checked out the Epcot Food & Wine Festival was last month, but I waited to share it until December as an excuse to share additional pictures of the Disney parks we visited decorated for Christmas. Disney really goes all out for the holidays and starting 4-6 weeks early meant we got to see it in early November.

A few years ago a neighbor passed along the festival map for the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. A friend of hers had attended it and thought she might want to share it with here “wine guy” neighbor. It looked pretty interesting, a neat way to amp up the regional adventure of the World Stage at Epcot I thought. I tucked the event away in the back of my mind hoping I would remember it when we planned to head to Disney again. When it came time to plan our Florida vacation I checked the festival calendar and found that we could attend on the second to last day and see what the festival was all about.

Festival events are a challenge on many levels, and when you look at the intent of the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, to showcase the countries already part of the World Stage, you have to accept a few things. First, lots of people. We saw that even on the second to last day, but we do believe it could have been worse. Many of the beverage selections will come from the host country’s’ roster of volume leaders, e.g. one or more of the most popular brands. This was also true, but not without some exception. Serving that many people requires a volume commitment so we must reconcile that. Food service food. Back to the volume of people and need to produce lots of food quickly and consistently. This was also true, but Disney, the festival organizers and kitchen staff get high marks for producing tasty dishes and serving them in a smooth process.

Now that we have the context set, what were some of the good dishes, drinks and pairings?

The very best pairing was from Ireland and consisted of a cheese plate and an aromatized wine-based beverage made by Bunratty that was sweetened with honey. Kerrygold was one of the booth sponsors and both butter and their Dubliner cheese was on the plate. Served with a fruit chutney and some brown bread this stop felt the most like a wine tasting to us.

( You can almost touch it. )

Before we attended the festival we had heard that both the Kahlua Pork Slider from Hawaii and the Beef Tenderloin with Mushrooms and Truffle Sauce from Canada were must haves. We did have both and the Canadians win. They were out of the truffle sauce, but the beef and shrooms were plenty delicious to get the thumbs up.

( Kahlua Slider. )

( A Canadian eating shrooms & steak. No frites though. )

The American Experience for me was a lobster roll and Sam Adams sampler. The beer sampler included the Cherry Wheat which was notably good on this outing. The Sam Adams Chocolate Bock has been the festival special beer for the entire 17 year run of the festival, and was originally produced for this event, but was already tapped out. The Lobster roll was fresh and delicious, but was trending a bit too far in the dill direction for my normal tastes.

( Looks like home! )

Local Florida beers were available at both the Craft Beer and Florida Local booths. I tried all three selections, which I reviewed along with six other local beers last week in the November 29th edition of My HalfFull Glass.

( Thirsty? )

Other countries that got high marks on food were China for their pot-stickers, which were cooked perfectly and Morrocco with a spiced meat patty pocket that was hugely flavorful. 

( Crisp outside, full of flavor inside! )

We had a second Cheese plate from a cheese-specific booth. It included several kinds of cheese and again made us pretty happy. We did also taste dishes from France, Argentina and Australia but they didn’t make the highlights.

( I enjoyed this with water as it was getting late and the small bites were stacking up! )

The line for the German beer and Brewer's Collection booths were long and visiting on the second to the last day meant that most of the beers I wanted to try, ones I hadn't had before, were already unavailable. I tried a few wines, but nothing really struck me. I had had most of the labels available and did feel compelled to pay to try them again at each booth. And then there are so many other countries we didn't have the stomach or time to visit. There is always next time Mexico, Caribbean, Japan, Italy, Poland, Belgium, Greece & Scandinavia!

We also never spent any time at the Festival Center that contained booths with tastings and retail from many of the brands behind the festival. This is definitely a multi-day event if you expect to cover even half of what is available. We finished the night with the Reflections of Earth show. I snagged a couple decent photos of the fireworks to share.

( Sunset over Epcot. )

As I said in the opening, Disney decorates for the holidays. Below is a slideshow of holiday pictures to set the mood. Merry Christmas everyone!

( The big tree at Epcot. )

( Above the door of the German Christmas shop. Love this place! )

( The American tree. ) 

( And Epcot Christmas. )

( The Magic Kingdom. )

( Main Street USA was already decked out for Christmas. )

( He almost looks surprised to see me. )



Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Half Full Glass – December 6th, 2012

NASCAR Jokes and Wine

A few weeks ago I was invited to a Twitter chat with NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon and the team from Jeff Gordon Cellars to sample their newest (2008) Joie de Vivre red blend.  Straight off, this wine is delicious. It is big and full with a pleasing sweetness that was more pronounced in my experience for a dry, red, blend; but it works incredibly well. The breadth of dark, juicy fruits really shines in this wine. To me this is very much a drinking wine more so than a food pairing wine, but that is really just a statement on how well it drank on its own. The finish is gently sweet and the tannins are soft, chewy and well integrated.

Leading up to the tasting a number of us on Twitter were cracking NASCAR and car racing jokes to get everyone laughing. When Jeff Gordon arrived on the Twitter chat he was cracking some of his own, including a few about being a dad and having to steal away to chat about wine. That's real life!

The fruit for the wine is sourced from 3-5 different vineyards and the 2008 blend is made from Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah and aged in barrels (mostly 2-3 yr used) for 20 months. The online price for this wine directly from Jeff Gordon Cellars is $61, but you can get it for $55 if you order a case. Send me the other 11 bottles if you don't have room! Jeff Gordon Cellars also produce varietal Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonny, a Rosé of Syrah and the Joie de Vivre blend.

(The painted black bottle didn't have enough contrast with the gold lettering for me to get a good camera shot. )

Glimpses of Alsace

I’ve never been to the Alsace region of France, but I do hope to get there someday. As a Riesling fan I have tried a few of the most well-known Alsatian producers' Rieslings with across the boards enjoyment. I've also found the Alsatian Gewurztraminers to be notable and that the Pinot Blanc made in the region is a great cocktail wine or an entre to a meal of wine pairings. So when I was invited to a Wines of Alsace dinner I immediately checked my calendar and was quite happy to find I was free.

( The magnum of "Cuvee Frederich Emile" Trimbach 2006 Riesling. )

The dinner was held at Cragie on Main, a well known and highly regarded restaurant located in Central Square in Cambridge, MA. Not having been there before I had no context for the food. Ultimately the menu prepared for the dinner was a made-for-us edition of their rotating sampler menu, so my ignorance did me no harm or good on this night. After realizing there were eight courses and ten wines however, I fully expected something exciting was afoot!

Dinner lasted over three hours and had several highlights making both a follow-up visit to Cragie on Main and an Alsatian wine acquisition sure things for me.

A Crémant, the Schoenhetiz Brut NV, was served with the first two amuse courses and after a few sips several of us also noticed the price, $14. This wine is a huge value at only $14!!! This is a beautiful bubbly made from a blend of Pinot Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc that comes off crisp, minerally with hints of sweet, baked breads and treats. Serve this wine as you would any Champagne or Sparkling Wine.

( A celery/apple sorbet with a fresh pulled, local cheese. I would have
enjoyed this with the Crémant as well!)

I may have only had Alsatian Pinot Gris once or twice before and after thinking about when and where I didn't recall any lingering conclusions or wines of note. Not after this tasting! We were only served two Pinot Gris, but they both made an impact. First up was the Rolly Gassman 2004 Pinot Gris. The nose is overflowing with fruit, flowers, spices and a fullness to make it all sing. The wine is slightly sweet and made a fitting appearance with the pasta course that had a rich creamy sauce.

( The pasta is a fantastic meal all on its own! )

The second Pinot Gris was the Charles Koehly 2001 'Altenberg Grand Cru' Vendages Tardives. This wine was served with a dessert of Whole Wheat Crepes, apples and a butternut ice cream. Slam dunk. Sadly we were told the story that the winemaker who was the sole heir to his family business had died two years prior to this wine's vintage. Very sad for the family and most certainly a loss for the wine world. This wine is concentrated and bit reductive, drinking like a Madeira for me, making for a great match with the dessert. The butternut ice cream has been put on a short list for a home project!

( This dessert was really fantastic, and would be just so without wine. But why? )

The "Hengst Grand Cru" Zind-Humbrecht 2010 Gewurztraminer was outstanding for me because of the nose. The perfumed aromas of Muscat came to mind, but there was something a bit less wild connecting the fruit & flowers in the nose of this wine. Served with slow-roasted pheasant,the sweetness of this wine was well matched with the concentrated flavors of the confit on the pheasant.

( Pheasant. A terrible picture, I know. )

And of course we enjoyed several Rieslings, including one served from a magnum, which ended up being my favorite of three we tasted. The 2006 Trimbach "Cuvee Frederich Emile" from a magnum is drinking beautifully right now. This  medium-bodied Riesling is a bit creamy with lots of orange and citrus fruits in both the nose and mouth. The nose also has a spectrum of minerally and petrol aromas that are not so over the top to not feel at home at the beginning AND end of each sip. 

The wine isn't sweet, but is also not dry enough to take away the sweetening effect when paired with something spicy, like Kampachi sashimi & pears with a miso dressing and pickled mustard seeds.

( A Mi-Cuit Sea Trout which was paired with two Rieslings. )

One other notable wine was the Engelgarten Marcel Deiss 2007 white blend. A field blend of five grapes (Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc) the wine has a beautiful orange laced nose with moderate sweetness through the whole taste. There is an exotic quality to the flavors in this wine, something magical which I believe is a perk of both the grapes used AND field blending, making this wine easily notable amongst peers made from single varieties.

( Quite a lineup! )

The whole dinner was a nicely woven mix of aromas, flavors and textures. Adding the conversation which ranged from Asian gangs and demons to the wines themselves, there were plenty of good times and smiles had by everyone who attended. Thank you's go out to Stephanie Teuwen and Louise Jordan with Wines of Alsace for hosting, Chris Lyons for inviting me to dinner and the staff at Cragie on Main for taking such good care of us. Tips of the hat go also go out to Richard Auffrey and Jacqueline Church for the great conversation and laughs!

With the exception of the Crémant the average suggested price on these wines is around $50. I believe the Frederich Emile Riesling and the Rolly Gassman Pinot Gris are both very much worthy of prices in this range. And don't forget the Schoenhetiz Brut NV Crémant for around $14 a bottle!



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, December 4, 2012

Boston Wine Expo 2013 - Win a Free Pass

*** Contest winners have been announced

Yes you read that correctly, 2013. I am already looking into the new year and thinking about what adventures I might be able to send you on with a free pass to the Boston Wine Expo being held February 16th & 17th, 2013.

In October I wrote about the plans for the new and improved Boston Wine Expo including the big commitment to social technologies and social outreach.  Forging a closer relationship with area bloggers was part of those plans with one of the perks being that as a Blogger Ambassador I was going to be able to give away free passes.

Have you been to the Boston Wine Expo before? If not, here is your chance! With thousands of wines from more than 15 countries there is so much to take in at the Boston Wine Expo. What will you explore?

The free passes will be drawn randomly from comments left on this post. And not with any ordinary comment either. In your comment I would like you to describe in a couple of sentences how you would "attack" the Boston Wine Expo if you were to win a free pass. With so much to explore decisions have to be made. Is there a must-visit region or producer for you? Is there a new vintage of an old favorite you are hoping to try? Comments must be posted before the end of the day on December 10th. Your e-mail address must be included in the comment and you have to be able to attend the event as the free passes have no redeemable value and cannot be exchanged for cash. I will draw and announce two winners (one pass each) in one week on December 11th.

The Boston Wine Expo does really want to be your friend and so do I. Leave your comment to win a free pass to the Boston Wine Expo. Good luck!