Sunday, April 22, 2012

Let the Wine Lead Your Way - Boston Wine Riot

In my pre-Riot post I laid out a game plan for working through the abundant offerings at the Boston Wine Riot this weekend. I suggested having a plan, and further recommend that beverage festival goers have a plan for three things, what to drink, what to eat, and additional hydration. I definitely made good on my plan, enjoying an afternoon with my friend Marie from The Life of Vines Blog.

I thought the use of the space for the Second Glass 2012 Boston Wine Riot at the Park Plaza castle was good, and I liked that venue better than the Cyclorama; but it’s really a tossup based on how each supports the event. After a short wait the doors opened and we checked in, got glasses and set about figuring out where to go next. As I had, Marie had also been reviewing the festival schedule and wines using the Second Glass mobile app. Attracted to the Bubbly Tour Marie mentioned a few of the wines listed on the guided tour. Off we went.

The hit of the Bubbly Tour was the Dr. Loosen Sparkling Riesling. The product has only been out about a year and I had yet to even hear that it existed. The Dr. L QbA Riesling is one of my all time best performing wines. Consecutive vintages of this wine have been more consistent performers for me when you also consider that the wine itself is interesting with a bit of complexity. Inexpensive wines often lack that last part. 

The still Riesling usually leads off with citrus and some minerally or slate-like aromas. I typically pick up peaches and island fruits in the mouth with a moderate and tart finish containing both the fruits and a noticeable citrus-laden exit. The sparkling version presented much of the same, although apple was more predominant with the activity in the mouth of the bubbles and the wine. The finish was clean and lively. I was as surprised to find this product as I was the sparkling Viognier from Virginia and Horton Vineyards in 2011. Both grapes have very different aromas than the classics used in sparkling wine, and I think those aromas coming through early as they do are an asset in the moments of enjoyment the wines are intended to make. The captivating nose draws you in.

( Overhead of tasters learning about different wines, regions and styles. )

At the end of the Bubbly Tour we went on a local wine mission. Wines (actually wines, meads AND ciders because that’s how we roll in New England) from Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire and Maine were being poured at tables adjacent to each other.

Our first stop was the Finger Lakes table where we found our mutual friend Lorie from the Wining Ways blog. She looked so happy to be engaging rioters about wines from the Finger Lakes including those from Glenora, Dr. Frank, Ravines and Red Newt. The Rieslings and Gewurztraminer were my faves. The full-bodied mouth of the Red Newt Circle Riesling reminds me of my early days of wine drinking, fruity, sweet Rieslings that had a touch of character in both nose and palate. The dry Rieslings from Dr. Frank and Ravines are examples of the finesse that the Finger Lakes wines bring to the table. I remarked to Marie that I’d bet big on the Finger Lakes right now. I am betting that the steady growth curve of recognition, publicity and enjoyable wines is meaningful and should be a focus of pride and inspiration for all East Coast agriculture and related businesses. The Glenora Gewurztraminer tasted very lively, and I feel that the Cabernet Franc from the same producer could continue to benefit from aging.

We moved on to the Farnum Hill Ciders table and I was so happy to hear the server re-enforcing that the product is grown and produced in New Hampshire. Yeah it is, and it is one of the finest examples of cider in the nation, and yes, New Hampshire is just that cool.

Next stop was the Travessia Urban Winery table. Owner and winemaker Marco Montez was at the table talking to tasters and promoting his locally made wines. I have to sadly report once again that I have yet to get to Travessia. Marco and I have met two or three times now at tastings and I enjoy his wines, so getting a chance to chat again was happily taken. 

Marie and I had just been talking about wines made locally, and suggestions for what she might take to Taste Camp. Travessia makes one of my all time favorite wines and a contender for the top New England wine in my experience. Vidal Blanc. Grown in Massachusetts and produced at the winery in New Bedford. I taste this wine whenever I see it. There are lots of hybrid grapes that don’t make classically styled dry or medium-dry wines, but Vidal is one of the rare exceptions. The fact that it can also be made in sweet and late harvest or ice-wine styles too makes it a slam dunk of a grape to make a tasty local wine from. The 2011 isn’t bottled for commercial sale yet and the early taste once again brought me joy. It is drier this year compared to 2010, something Marco noted in regards to the weather in 2011, but no less enjoyable. The missing sweetness lets the acidity come through more, almost making the wine taste a bit herbal.  You can’t mistake it for a different wine if you know it, but the vintage versatility of this wine in different pairings and courses of the same meal is the first thing that comes to mind here. I’m going to have to try just that as soon as the 2011 is released.Marie, that was and is my recommendation for Taste Camp. 

Before I left for the Wine Riot I was tweeting with friends about it and Brian from A Thought For Food mentioned enjoying wines from both Huge Bear Wines and Mouton Noir. Marie and hit the Huge Bear Wines table together. Unfortunately we were both left with a concern about the amount of oak in the wines. The Sauvignon Blanc was aged in neutral barrels, which is funny because oak treatment was the first thing I picked up. I visited the Mouton Noir table after Marie had left and as my ultimate last stop . I liked the Other People’s Pinot the best, and not just for the 90’s music reference. It was light, smooth and full of flavor.

As we roamed we took note of the breakout spaces being prepped for crash courses and educational tastings. I didn't attend any this year, but can vouch for the variety of subjects you might further indulge your tastes for in this way. In 2010 thew Quady vermouth seminar was enlightening. I make 50/50's with their vermouths at home because of it. A simple refreshing cocktail made from aromatized wine and citrus that has a stomach settling effect like many classic aperitifs do. Very cool. 

The Asian-food and red wine pairing tips session from that same year was hands on, one of the best ways to learn. I've enjoyed pairing Asian take-out with my homemade reds several times since. Again this year there were sessions for everyone, including tips for shucking off "rules" about how to pair, use and enjoy wines and closeups on regions like the Laungedoc. Signs like "How to Taste" to the right were displayed throughout the room. Helping less experienced consumers learn how to hone their senses and determine what they like is just damn good business!

Marie and I tasted the blends at Cypher next. Marie had tagged them to get more experience about Paso Robles. I’m not as familiar as I could be with Paso so it made great sense to me! My fave was the Anarchy, a Zin, Mourvedre, Syrah blend. Big, fruity, and spicy, it overflows its Rhone mold, but does retain a bit of grace in the finish to give it some cred. Hmm, is ZMS a Paso original? The Peasant is their classic GMS Rhone blend, and Heretic is a Petite Sirah that clocks in as dark as you might expect it to be.

We made quick visits to the Yellow + Blue table, tables with both Greek and Italian wines including wines made with the Assyritiko, Agiorgitiko and Soave grapes. Nothing really jumped out at me, and I didn’t find the distinctive nose on the Yellow + Blue Torrentes that I have enjoyed in the past. It was time for lunch.

Roxy’s Grilled Cheese had the Panini presses cranked up and plenty of traffic to keep them busy. Marie went with a grilled mushroom and cheese while I opted for the Green Muenster, a cheese, bacon and avocado melt. While I waited I hit the table for Sweet Wines, wines that are exactly as they are advertised, sweet. Moscato and Cabernet. The first is best for me when sweet, and the second should only be sweet if it was intended as a late harvest oddity. Both wines were tasty, but the sweet Cab just didn’t convince me. If people genuinely like these wines and are loyal buying them, I won’t argue. It’s just not my preference.

From there Marie and I hopped Air France and hit the Loire. The Sauvion Vouvray was straightforward and quietly enjoyable. The Rose d’Anjou from Monmoussea was pleasant and peaked my interest for the Rose of the region. Neither the Louvetrie Muscadet or Landron Chinon did anything for me. Admittedly I don't have any more than surface Loire expertise and will definitely need to seek out recommendations of good performers to try to help me better understand the region.

( More tips, tricks and information to contextualize and approach the wines later. )

Marie took her leave and I planned a few more taste-bys before I headed out myself. The Alsatian wines were next. I’m a big fan of the wines from Trimbach, including their Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer. The Riesling made me happy once again. I also enjoyed the Willm Pinot Gris. Lots of white flowers, tropical fruits and plenty of acidity from beginning to end.

My second to last stop was to the  Maine Mead Works table for a flight of their HoneyMaker meads, all produced in Maine.

The dry mead is a good starter, especially for those new to mead. The profile of fermented honey is accessible in this style. I always have trouble describing what un-flavored fermented honey tastes like. It’s a combination of a few distinct aroma groups. First is something akin to freshly dried flowers, musty is a word some people would recognize. A soapy, perfumy essence is another common one, something like how lavender in high concentration might smell. Different herbal and fruit aromas and flavors can be evident in meads made from varietal honeys or different blends, and some very distinct and unique ones at that. A truly dry mead isn’t going to taste sweet at all, and a certain measure of acidity from the bee’s processing of the honey should be expected. Once you begin to taste finished meads with residual sugar you most certainly will recognize the composition of these aromas and flavors as honey.

( If you don't know about mead, just ask, or just wait. Visibility is growing, especially in New England. )

Next up was the Blueberry. This is a standard strength melomel with plenty of blueberry flavor, but not a super sweet finish as some tasters might expect or want. From there I moved on to my favorite, and an inspiration for a summer project, a hopped mead. Hops that deliver lots of citrus and floral aromas can be used to make a light, white-wine-like mead that does not taste outright like a massively hopped pale ale. Lively like a citrusy, herbal Sauvignon Blanc is the most ready wine analogy. If you don’t really like hops you might not like this mead, but it isn’t some hop head fantasy and very much worth trying. I finished up with the Semi-Dry Mead and Margot’s favorite (making her jealous at my afternoon), the Lavender Mead. The latter is inspiration for yet another upcoming project. The floral and spice aromas that come from that mead are gentle and inviting. The aroma of lavender is distinctive and it comes through decisively. The mead finishes sweet, but not cloying. Based on what I said about the underlying flavors of fermenting honey above, it is no surprise that it and lavender work together.

Thank you very much to Rachael Cohen and the whole team at Second Glass for putting on another great riot and offering me press tickets to cover the event. When this event comes around again I strongly suggest folks that want to discover, learn AND have a good time all in the same place attend. Thank you to the vendors, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, Cabot, The Upper Crust, others (if I missed you, sorry!) and all the wineries and distributors who participated. The wines, food, music and people made for a fun afternoon exploring and socializing.

 Eat, drink, socialize!


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.” 

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