Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tales from the Cellar – July 2012

It’s been a while since I shared a cellar update, actually more than 8 months have passed since the last one! Time sure flies. And we have been busy.

On the production front Margot and I have shepherded a number of 2011 wines/ciders/meads into the bottle since November, including:
  • Cellar Craft Amarone (made in early 2011)
  • Cellar Craft Red Mountain Cab (also made in early 2011)
  • Mosti Fresco Zin
  • Mosti Fresco Riesling
  • Mosti Fresco Guewurztraminer
  • Apple/Cinnamon Cyser
  • Cherry/Currant Mead
  • Maple Cider
  • Maple Dessert Wine
  • Still Cider
  • Sparkling Cider
  • Strawberry/Riesling
Several of the newest wines are offering some excitement, but over the years we have gotten more patient both from experience AND from having some aged supply to drink while new wines are aging. The still and sparkling ciders have been a bit underwhelming, but the group of us who bought the cider were a little suspect of the quality of it after getting it home and going. The feedback on the finished product has been similar from the others in the group. I’ll figure out how to turn them into punch or something so it doesn’t go to waste!

The brewing schedule (to the right is a pic of Margot and I making the Hefeweizen in March) is also in full swing and by the end of 2012 we will have likely made more beer this year than in any prior year since we started in 2003. Here is what we’ve made so far this year:
  • Pliny the Braggot (hopped malt/honey beverage)
  • Dark & Hoppy (American Stout, dry hopped)
  • Hefeweizen
  • English Mild
  • Cherry Saison
  • Big Belgian
  • Oaked Red Ale
  • Honey Brown
  • Lime Ale
  • Summer Shandy
Most of the beers have been shared around with friends and the feedback has been a huge honor. The simpler beers, the mild and the Hefe in particular, have been big hits at parties. The Big Belgian (big as in 8.5% ABV) just created some fans this past weekend. This might be an annual beer for me. The more specific beers like the Saison and Dark & Hoppy have plenty of appeal, but do need some background for drinkers new to the styles.  The Lime Ale and Summer Shandy are awaiting their debut at a summer party in a little over a week. If we are lucky to get a great summer day I predict these beers will kill it with the guests!

We’ve also been in the ring against the other contenders from the homemade beer and wine communities several times since last November. The results have been mixed but no less exciting.

We picked up nine medals from the annual WineMaker Magazine Annual Competition including:
  • Concord Rosé (G)
  • Strawberry (G)
  • Purple Plum (S)
  • Dandelion/Chamomile (B)
  • Maple Dessert (B)
  • Gewurztraminer (B)
  • Raspberry Fortified (B)
  • Apple/Cinnamon Cyser (B)
  • Orange Vanilla Mead (B)
From homebrew competitions we also took Third Place for our English Mild and Second Places for our Maple Cider and Orange/Vanilla Mead.

( Margot picking up one of the medals at the WineMaker Magazine Conference. )

The competition feedback has been phenomenal. Several beers have garnered positive judging comments about their fit to the style and suggestions for us to consider in attempting to make them again. With feedback we have been given we’ve already amped up our meads with more honey and more fruits, herbs or spices depending on what we are making. Some of the feedback has also been pretty quirky, like being told a hopped braggot isn’t stylistically accurate. Really? The style category is wide open on this. The only requirement is that it be equal parts malt and honey. Most people go brown or black with it, but I went pale ale and hoppy. Deal with it!

So that brings us to what is on deck for the rest of the year. I’m on a mead tear that started last year. This year I have gone big and have 15+ styles planned. Most of the batches will be small, 1 gallon, but that is more because I am going nutty with herbs and spices most of which I haven’t used this way before. Margot is about a week away from embarking on Stout and Porter experiments, both of which will result in three styles of beer and some with flavors. I expect I will make some more beer in the Fall, I’m just not sure what yet. Maybe another Belgian and another IPA to use some of the wonderful American hops I have been able to acquire. Wine is likely going to take a back seat for 2012, but the basement is so full of stuff that will be drinkable over the next year I doubt I will miss making more!

With all of that I am staying plenty busy. I will take a break next month to travel out to Portland for the Wine Bloggers Conference where I hope to learn more about the regions wines, beers, distilled spirits AND food!



Friday, July 27, 2012

Major Wine Media – Stunningly Predictable & Amazingly Boring

Not all the major wine media outlets are predictable and boring, or at least not every month!

The August 31st issue of Wine Spectator was sitting on the table for a couple days before I picked it up. It is “The List” issue, containing the annual Wine Spectator restaurant awards. The close-up profiles on new Grand Award winners are generally interesting, as is some of the other story-driven content that surrounds the complete list which largely fills the remaining pages. It is a dedicated offering from the folks at Wine Spectator and I’m not trashing the restaurant content.

As I searched the magazine’s pages for something to counter balance the lengthy restaurant index I strolled passed the section entitled “Wines of Summer”. My first thought was, here we go again. Rosé and crisp whites, and mostly likely California Sauvignon Blanc. Bingo! Predictable and boring. Is that all there is to summer wine enjoyment? This was made worse by a sense of déjà vu. Didn’t they do this a year ago AND in the same issue? I dug out the August 31, 2011 issue and sure enough there was also an article on California Sauvignon Blanc within its pages. Using some kind of formula Wine Spectator? Shouldn’t we be mixing it up a little bit?

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Rosé or Sauvignon Blanc. But even in my little garage-project of a blog I don’t write about the wines of summer in such a predictable and totally been-there-done-that kind of way. I feel like shepherding readers into such a tight space can’t possibly promote as much as excitement as trying on something new.

What about BBQ joints that offering solid wine pairings to go with the smoked and spicy fare? A quick web search and I found the web site for BBQ Smokehouse that actually has a page specifically on the restaurant’s pairing philosophy with more detailed pages describing pairings with reds, whites and a recipe for sangria. And guess what? They aren’t that far from Healdsburg and Sonoma wine country, and they aren’t the only place!

Austin, Texas would be another place to go looking for just this kind of mashup. Austin also has a vibrant and growing wine community! Dare to be different! They also have Tex-Mex and spicy fare to experiment with.

I’m already scheming up the pairings I am going to throw at pulled pork that I will be smoking at home for an end of summer celebration over Labor Day weekend. I suspect I will pull out a range of wines and use the table and my friends as a laboratory for find some worthy matches. All you guys out there might want to set the beer down after you are done cooking and see what a little red wine can do with your prized meats fresh off the grill!

Looking around the other media channels known for their seasonal wine articles I found a mix of both tired and more creative suggestions. Food & Wine Magazine’s web site offered some depth off of the well travelled trail. Moscofilero and Juliénas were two that jumped out for me. I couldn’t find anything intriguing after sifting through the Rosés for summer articles at Wine Enthusiast. A Decanter article from 2008 also offers a bit of adventure. Several searches at their site didn’t turn up the typical Rosé summer taste off so at least they don’t seem to play the same tune as the others.

How about Pinot Gris, Verdejo or Vermentino for whites? When going red why not try Cotes du Rhone, Rioja or something typically considered pedestrian like red blends with a little native or hybrid grape influence such as those I found in Finger Lakes recently? These suggestions are exciting alternatives with plenty of open road for you to drive them down.

( This makes me think of red wine, how about you? )

If you want to go beyond the traditional backyard party fare, burgers and dogs, you can open up a lot of pairing possibilities. Steak tips, sausages, ribs, grilled pizza, fish tacos, the sky’s the limit.

If I can offer any advice worth repeating regarding summer wine enjoyment though, it would be to keep the wines cool. This is a slam dunk for whites for most wine lovers, but red wines can take a chill as well. If you consider serving red at 55-60 degrees, they are going to seem quite cool on a hot day, so don’t be afraid to put them on ice!

I’d like to expect more of those wine media outlets that draw in big advertising dollars and claim to have considerable visibility within the wine community. Why be boring and predictable? Throw the formulas in the trash and get out and live. Those experiences will be worth sharing!



Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Finger Lakes Conference Trip Highlights Part 1

My friends at WineMaker Magazine are having some technical difficulties with their blog software that has resulted the majority of my pictures from this post not being rendered when they upload them. The pictures are part of the story so I am reposting here so readers can have the full effect.

This was the third year that my wife and I took a “working vacation” for the WineMaker Magazine Annual Conference. Each year has been a different trip, three diverse locations does make up a good part of that, but together the location, themes, people and the regional juice all get  mixed up to create a complex conference blend. There is plenty to take in for all skill levels and interests during this event. The local wine tastings and experience with how the regional producers are getting along is always the most valuable for me. Conferences attendees can get that local exposure through specific sessions, pre-conference boot camps and both pre-and-post-conference tasting trips that are independently organized. The Finger Lakes provided an interesting place to study yet again.

My initial share from the conference was a fifty-three snapshot photo album, entitled ”What I Learned Out On The Road”, looking back over the three years of trips, including the most recent in conference in Ithaca, NY.

Something about Riesling

After my first visit to the region in 2011 I posted “Finger Lakes Riesling”, a summary of my experiences with the region’s Riesling up to that point. Dry Rieslings in the Finger Lakes do often have a small amount of residual sugar to balance the high acidity. You come to find that to be a non-issue in classifying the wines as dry. Ask about the IRF scale. For me the best balance of style differential AND drinkability can be found in the dry Finger Lakes Rieslings. The very best are those that present as absolutely clean and focused, no matter the range of fruits in both the aromas and nose. If the wine is spicy or tart neither of those elements will be overly aggressive. I have found the Ravines Dry Riesling in the years of 2009 through 2011 to have a particular finesse, despite being different in aroma and flavor each year.

I do also love sweeter Rieslings, but without a measure of noble rot or unique character I don’t think they differentiate themselves as well as the dry style. The Leidenfrost 2008 Semi-Dry was a particular standout on the most recent trip. The petrol and minerality really had this wine singing. The late harvest and ice-wine Rieslings are generally unique and always worthy of a try even with the non-Riesling competition. Hermann J. Wiemer makes an exceptionally deep and rich Late Harvest Riesling. We end up buying more than a representative share of these types of wines when we find good ones. As a social wine, a well made and unique dessert wine can add just the right spice to a party.

( Riesling vines at Weimer. )

A second visit in February provided more Riesling tasting opportunities and I most certainly continued to experience the trend of variation in the recent back to back vintages. This is a trend I like because of the way it is expressed differently between producers in the same vintages where the vintages are different themselves overall. It really becomes an adventure that you have to get out and experience. After the two trips I was pretty confident by experience that Riesling and the other aromatic whites were the lead story as other wine writers had been covering it. I shared tasting notes on Rieslings from both Wagner and Sheldrake Point in posts after the second trip.

Riesling Roundtable

During the 2012 annual conference a panel of winemakers from the Finger Lakes region talked about their experience with Riesling. On the panel were Peter Bell of Fox Run, Sayre Fulkerson of Fulkerson Winery, Steve DiFrancesco of Glenora and Dave Breeden from Sheldrake Point. The winemakers who hosted the Riesling Roundtable spent a good deal of time talking about how Riesling works in varying conditions and expresses the vintage variation well. This was a great lead off from the first question of “What makes the Finger Lakes and ideal place to grow Riesling?” Nobody said there was a distinctive Finger Lakes Riesling profile, and each contributor shared information about the vineyard differences and locations that they were actively learning the differences of in each new year.

( Sorry for the grainy picture, my good camera was on the road with friends! )

Here are some of the more interesting responses during the 75 minute Q&A:

In response to the next question, “Describe the microclimate of your vineyard or vineyards within the bigger picture of the while Finger Lakes Region and how this affects your finished wines.”, Peter Bell offered a clarification that we were talking about mesoclimates and not microclimates. At first this seemed slightly picky but after looking it up I found that the industry-wide term for the climate restricted to a vineyard or vineyards of tens or hundreds of meters is in fact a mesoclimate. A microclimate is more often used to describe a smaller area, such as a block or a row of vines. Thanks Peter! Sayre Fulkerson said “We’re still working on trying to learn and define the unique differences in the Finger Lakes” in response to the same question.

When asked what the winemakers looked for in grapes at harvest and how they measured and/or experienced the grapes to decide there was both technical and sensory oriented feedback. Dave Breeden said “What I look for at harvest is ripeness.” He also indicated he isn’t “interested in the numbers themselves”, brix, pH, TA, but the trend up to harvest. All of the winemakers talked about the physical attributes, browning seeds & seed/membrane separation, and the lack of unripe flavors they were looking for in grapes in the vineyard before picking.

 “If you could give advice to a someone looking to grow Riesling grapes in the Finger Lakes, what would the most important points be?”, got a great and succinct response from Sayre Fulkerson. “Have a good spray program.” His premise is that if you don’t keep leaves on the vine you will lose your fruit and then the vine. Disease pressure due to the typical climate was discussed by all four panelists.

( I stopped in a Fulkerson on my last day of tasting. Great diversity in types an styles! )

When asked about their personal style in making Riesling there was a nearly unanimous agreement that creating the illusion that you haven’t done anything in the winery was the goal of their programs. Steve DiFrancesco contrasted low acids in a hot year with high acids in a cool year, when neither must needed adjustment to make a great wine. Dave Breeden said “I don’t like to do work” to sum it up. Minimal adjustment and effort make the best Rieslings based on the feedback.

During the audience question portion I asked about how each winemaker judges the success of their dry Rieslings based on the bar and restaurant sales. Each panelist acknowledged that they continue to see increasing demand for the Dry Rieslings where they are likely going to be enjoyed with a meal . Fulkerson added that the dry style is easier to compare and more expressive of the grape which likely appeals to people who are pairing them with food. I can’t disagree with that and am pleased to see that the efforts of these producers are paying off.

Well, I hope that by sharing a bit of what I learned you also learned something you didn’t already know about Finger Lakes Riesling. Did you come to the Ithaca for the conference? If so, did you get out and try any of the local Riesling?

A Unique Experience

Staying on course with the organized conference events for a moment, I wanted to share a unique experience that I shared with several fellow winemakers and conference attendees. In 2010 I told tales of my homemade strawberry wine to quite a few conference goers. I took home a gold medal for the most recent batch of that wine during that trip, something I also did this year again which I say with a smile. Strawberry wine has been a special project for me. I’ve spent seven years trying improvements to recipes looking for the sweet spot. I haven’t found it yet. I shared the original recipe via email and my blog in 2010 and had several conversations with folks trying it the next year at the conference in Santa Barbara.

( The strawberry winemakers are assembled and at work! Photo with permission from Tim Vandergrift. And yes that is Daniel Pambianchi photo-bombing us. I love that guy! )

This year three of that group got together again and luckily had all brought a bottle of the most recent vintage to share. So we sat down in front of our “conference family” vertical and shared what we thought. There were two styles, a sweet (1) and a dry or medium-dry (2) depending on how you want to gauge it. The medium dry versions were nearly identical in color and the intensity of the aromas and flavors. They WERE different, but in a very subtle way. The difference in the sweetness between the medium dry and third bottle sets up an unbalanced comparison, but what it did represent being different was no less exciting. The sweeter wine tasted like prickly fresh strawberry preserves. Not too sweet, and all fruit sweetness too boot. We could have sat there for hours talking just about strawberry wine! This was by far one of the most unique experiences I have had in my winemaking years.

To Be Continued

Many thanks go out to the WineMaker Magazine staff, the Statler Hotel, vendors, sponsors and the bars, restaurants, wineries, breweries that all hosted us and our peers for the weekend. We had a great time and really enjoy getting together with our crazy winemaking family!

In part two I head back out on the road in the Finger Lakes uncovering new wines, beers, spirits and food!



Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Divided and Conquered

( Photos courtesy of Brian Samuels Photography. )

By so many measures it would appear that as a people we are more divided than ever. Political divisions, ideological divisions, racial divisions, economic divisions, religious divisions, pick one. We seem to embrace these divisions. These divisions make us weak.

By dividing ourselves along lines we don’t often even fully understand we are weakening ourselves and opening the door for those who might try to exploit those divisions to control us or for their own personal gain. When these divisions are used to attack one another irreparable damage is done and the divisions are more likely to be sustained and magnified. This is even when the divisions make no sense and the differences they are based on harm no one.

In describing the tactics and strategy of the battlefield SunTzu used the words divide and division quite a few times. A divided army is weaker and easier to conquer. A divided people are confused and will form allegiances out of fear and not common sense.  Maybe we think about war too much.

Throughout history poems, stories and songs have been written about the ideas that divide us and the bad that comes from it. You’d think we might learn something from our own pop culture.

It doesn’t have to be like this. For it to change though people need to better grasp the responsibilities that come with our rights to liberty and freedom of expression. These rights aren’t absolute and after you consider the documented responsibilities (look it up) that come with those rights you realize that our divisions are in the grey area just beyond. Individuals have to choose differently if they want society to be stronger and they themselves more deserving of respect.

Last week I took a pretty good beating on the subject of who is an amateur winemaker and whether people who make wine from ingredients others than grapes (juice, kits, fresh fruit) are really pursing the craft of winemaking and are deserving of respect. For the record, I didn’t start the debate and it isn’t a new one. On top of that  the people who I took those shots from are a minority with a very specific winemaking bent and a terrible attitude. Their words attempt to divide the community of amateur winemakers and create a hierarchy within it.

Why? Well, after exchanging a number of messages my take away is because they want to. It must make them feel better. Initially the gripe is that one particular wine competition, the one hosted by WineMaker Magazine which is the largest amateur-only competition worldwide, doesn’t make a distinction between grape-based and non-grape based wines within the red & white wine categories. This results in kit-based wines having a chance at winning best in show and grand champion awards. And they often do. This is a fair gripe, and one that might bear consideration by those in a position of authority, but that has to be a reasoned, civil discussion in order for it to have meaning.

The fact that many other competitions make a kit vs. grape distinction with a separate category or a separate competition all together isn’t a fact I will hide. Which is the fairest way to judge the whole collection of wines? Well, that is a question that has no objective answer in my opinion. Rejecting this opinion is the right of any who wishes, but doing so with negative sentiment, name calling and damning statements about the organizers and people involved doesn't do one bit to move the conversation along. I’ll also note that many of the same competitions that make this distinction also exclude fruit wines all together. You don’t see me getting my panties all twisted up over it, and I’m one of the biggest champions of, and winners for, fruit wines in the community of people who make wine non-commercially. I enter those competitions which support the wines I have available and accept the results happily. Other winners are not taking anything away from me. You can split this hair, but in the end what does it matter? This is all done for fun, right?

My suggestion that the players in this stalemate roll it up and walk away drew the most vibrant comments. I was called a fascist for this. I was not allowing people their freedoms but I was taking mine on the other side. Bullshit. I was merely suggesting that the focus should be on the responsibilities that come with the freedoms of speech and expression. First and foremost when the freedom of speech is used to assail the reputation of others and divide a community that is legitimate in its construction, this right is being wielded irresponsibly. That is not an opinion. This is something we see every day and even the youngest among us know enough to recognize it. If we can’t do this walking away assures things are not made worse. My suggestion of being positive and inclusive rather than negative speaks to this directly. Why try to tear down a piece of a community you claim to be proud to be a member of? Why does it matter so much how people do what they do? If they are having fun and enjoying the fruits of their labors why relegate them to the trash heap just because they do it in a way you find personally detestable? Furthermore, why do it so publicly?

For the attention that’s why. And that’s how all this goes wrong. The personal need placed above the goals and mission of the community. Insecurity. Jealousy. Spite. All of these ideas can be wielded to breed hate and discrimination. We don’t need any more of those tired, played out ideas in the world.

What is the lesson here? Whether you are a winemaker, wine writer or just a consumer your attitude and engagement with the broader community matters. Pick a different community and this lesson applies just the same. We must all strive to focus on those things that bring us together and not the things that divide us. If you take a negative path doesn’t your negativity outweigh any positive contributions you might be credited with making? I surely think so. Choosing to divide rather than bring together weakens and devalues a community. Flaunting a bad attitude only reflects negatively on the person sporting it and reduces the respect they might otherwise command. No productive conversations can occur. People will walk away rather than keep listening. And they should. If there is a hierarchy in any of this it is here, and attitude matters.

In closing I offer this. When choosing your next words consider how they will help to promote a more positive world that includes as many ideas and people as possible. This open mindedness is rewarded as the communities of people who surround you respect you for what you give and not what you get. We all get stronger and all live better for it.



Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why I Write About Wine

The only wines that I personally feel I have any expertise with are those that I make myself. I can tell you what I made them from and how, and am I usually the first and only person to study them well enough to provide detailed tasting notes including what might be wrong with them. This is likewise true for the other fermented beverages I also make.

So when I write about wine, and specifically those for which I am strictly the consumer, I typically write about my experiences and how well (or not) the wines “worked” for me in the settings I tasted them in. I do taste many wines on their own, but I also endeavor to pair many with food and share other with friends to see how they might perform socially. I try wines of all stripes and don’t discriminate. I do throw a slanted eye towards wines that have a lot of hype about them, but only because hype creates expectations and expectations skew naked enjoyment. I don’t make up scores or assign ratings and I don’t try to be something more than I am with over the top reviews filled with jargon and descriptors that nobody else is going to make sense of. I likewise don’t care much for scores and ratings from others, but I do listen when people talk about their own experience.

Wine and experience with it as a consumer is personal. Decorating one’s experience with all sorts of seemingly objective and authoritative information in an attempt to increase its perceived value is a fool’s game in my opinion. But wine writers who blast out wine reviews on a daily basis are a dime a dozen, so I guess that message is not as well traveled as it could be.

So why do I write about wine? Because I enjoy it. Honestly, I write a lot less than when I got started several years ago, but that isn’t because I enjoy it less, it’s because I needed to find balance between naked enjoyment (as evidenced in picture below where I am stuffing my face and giving the thumbs up) and a slightly different version that involves notes, research and writing time as is illustrated in the picture at the top of this post. I’m still tweaking that balance, and this effort in itself has its own nuances to offer.

Writing helps me review my own experiences (those I choose to write about) and learn more about what I was sensing and savoring in those moments. Sharing experiences by posting them in a blog is a reason to write, but not because I want people to think anything of me, more because I am hoping that readers might be inspired to seek out worthy experiences of their own; tangents off of what they take away from my scribbling perhaps.

And I’m not talking about linear inspiration like, “hey that wine sounds great and I want to try it too!” I’m talking about things like “He’s making mead flavored with pineapple sage. What the hell is pineapple sage? He says it smells a bit like tropical fruit layered on top of sage with a bit of a field green bent. I’ve got to find some of that and see what I could do with it!” That is actually going to happen by the way. But maybe that’s not your style. How about “After recent trips to the Finger Lakes Jason has shared his enjoyment of the variations in the last three vintages of Rieslings. I wonder what how differently they really are.”  When I’ve done it well, it’s about the experience and not the specifics of any one wine or producer. And if I truly get it right it’s you in a new story that was inspired by something I experienced.

I don’t chase after samples and am not the most active guy on social media working all the connections and taking part in all the virtual tastings. I don’t attempt to get out to all the local events and be part of all the groups for wine lovers and wine writers. When I come across opportunities I deliberately choose to get involved, or not, and why I might make a specific choice is usually a spot decision based on the potential that I might have fun. Actually, it’s pretty much random. That keeps it exciting!

What I do though is think about my experiences. I try to see them as a collection of different moments that as a whole are meaningful because I really lived them. I don’t need to be known for what I’ve done and shared. I’d rather remain relatively unknown, but be exceedingly authentic, enthusiastic, energetic, fun loving and someone others enjoy interacting with. To me that is real and those are the people I want to be with anyway, so for me it just makes sense to do the same.

I’d love it if thoughtfulness and individuality were sought after by the wine industry over site traffic, the size of your social media network and how "active" you are, but then again wine is a business and the visibility of the people engaged by the industry is expected to correlate to the potential for a return on investment. I don’t have a problem with that, I just don’t need to be as tightly woven into it as so many writers and bloggers want to be. For me it is not a business and it is not work, it is fun. It is living and with only those rules I choose to impose on myself and where I answer to nobody beyond me and my family for what I choose to do in this space.

That’s why I write about wine.



Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mead Free or Die – The Path to Here

( The precursor to Cherry/Currant mead. You'll get it farther down. )

In late 2010 I went to the Moonlight Meadery Open House at their current (new then, thus the OH) location and tasted an impressive lineup of meads. I posted the visit in a Local Sips column, and based on the positive experience and plans for new connections I described in the post (BFD, brewing, mead-making and getting to know Michael Fairbrother are my fun times!) it was clear then that my visit left an impression.

In the year and a half since that posting Moonlight Meadery has seen an explosion of growth and fans, a Moonlight Nation if you will. The Nation is really a nation too. The Moonlight team have been on the road to conferences, publicity stops and breweries/meaderies all over this country. I’ve also written about them a few times, a festival tasting, a visit and a tribute toKurt’s Apple Pie. The great lineup of quality products coupled with active participation in clubs and events at both the regional and national level has garnered Michael, Bernice and the whole crew at Moonlight very lots of well-deserved attention.

I was also inspired to make mead again from that visit. I made a blackberry spiced one in 2006 or 2007 which I vaguely recall; but nothing really stuck from the experience. I have since made eight different styles to gain more experience, including the very popular Orange/Vanilla, Cherry/Currant, Cinnamon Cyser, Blueberry Hydromel, Pecan Pie and Hopped Braggot; all of which have gone to the bottle and taste like decent first attempts. I’ve also got batches of Dandelion/Oolong/Meyer Lemon and a plain sack-strength (high ABV) mead that are still in the carboy. The experiences have been rewarding, educational  and not without aspects which make for great growth opportunities!

The Cherry/Currant mead is in the spotlight for the rest of this post. During my first visit I tasted the Moonlight Meadery Desire which is made with cherry and black currant. Just in case you missed the above paragraph, this would be where the inspiration for my own came from and if you are thinking ahead you might be wondering what is going to happen next? How about I taste them side by side? Sidenote: I do not have a preference for my own and for those who know me, you know I can be very pragmatic about my own creations so this is a fair comparison and the drink that tastes the best is going to get the nod.

Moonlight Meadery Desire
Pours reddish brown with plenty of black currant influence. The black current funkiness leads the way in the nose, but having made a blockbuster all black currant dessert wine a few years back, this is a good thing by me. Slightly viscous with intense fruit flavors, a racing stripe of acidity and a long hard-candy finish, this mead really is spectacular.

Ancient Fire Cherry/Currant
Pours cherry red. Mild nose with mostly wildflower honey notes. Light flavors with a slight hint of cherry soda before it fades. Plenty of acidity to balance the minimal residual sugar. Drinks cleanly if not at all inspired.

Moonlight wins hands down. If I were going to do a cherry/currant mead again, and I will, I would most certainly double up on the fruit and amp up the honey as well. More of everything and leave a little of the sugar to balance out the fruit. Back to the cherry soda aspect, I could use this mead in a cocktail, maybe with some Cheerwine and homemade cherry-infused vodka, which will really pump up the cherry flavor present in the mead!

This is the first part in a series on my 2012 mead-making projects and the quest to develop recipes for delicious flavored-infused fermented honey beverages. In the next part I will review how I am making a large batch of straight mead that will have a number of different herbs or spices steeped in it. I will also share the return to my Orange/Vanilla mead (the picture above) and the plan to take it up to 11.



Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Quick Sprint for Bastille Day & #winechat

Today is Bastille Day (or La Fete Nationale) in France and Stage 13 of the Tour de France. The finish of today’s Tour stage is in Le Cap D’Agde on the Mediterranean in the Languedoc region of France.

This coming week on #winechat we will be celebrating the wines of France. I received several samples for the event, including the Tortoise Creek Wines 2011 Pinot Noir which is made in Limoux, an inland locale in the Languedoc.

This wine makes a fitting tribute to the French on Bastille Day as well as tying in the Tour de France (my annual France obsession) and #winechat nicely.

The wine pours ruby in color with trends to purple. The nose projects a spiced raspberry dessert, maybe a crumble, buckle or cake. In the mouth the wine is smooth with fine tannins and more of the red fruits like raspberry and cherry. The finish is of moderate length and nothing is out of balance. 

I can’t wait to find out more about this and the other wines on Wednesday night.

Happy Bastille Day France! Back to the bike racing.



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.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What Comes Next?

I got away to Vermont (the source of the photos) for our first summer trip this past weekend. The best lazy days at the house in VT involve, walks along the nearby wooded dirt roads and hours sitting in the shade catching up on magazines and books I’ve been socking away.

Interlacing all-of-the nothing with new & interesting beverages and effortless meals provided lots of time to consider menus, new drinks and recent food and beverage experiences. It was clearly fate that two pieces I read over the weekend got me thinking about a next evolution in wine and food evangelism, i.e. wine and food blogging.

I have always believed that at the core of every successful and inspiring food and beverage professional is a salesman for the product and the bandleader for the buzz all around it. Having that, the creativity of these chefs, designers, sommeliers, growers, producers and the others around them can create magnetism for ravenous consumers. These actors CAN be magnetic, but only if their creativity and personality show up.

The first piece was the editorial opener for Beer Advocate Issue #65 penned by Jason & Todd Alstrom who founded and edit Beer Advocate for the ranks of the beer geeks everywhere. In “Does Your Local Support Its Locale” Jason and Todd make it clear that local isn’t separate from quality and the “coolness” of the people involved, and only when it has those two things is local beer worthy of unconditional support. Yes, I agree on this point as well. I further expand the point to wine and food too, and yes this means there are rules. No kidding, there always have been rules. For those of us who write about our culinary adventures as fans, we need to take notice. We can’t cheerlead for empty products or ideas and expect to be taken seriously or garner support. We too need to be authentic and bring something interesting to the party!

The second piece was “Is Seasonal Eating Overrated?” in the August 2012 issue of Food & Wine Magazine.

In the article writer Katherine Wheelock pokes at the issue of what to make of seasonal menus; how ingredients get trotted out their respective season and the dearth of creativity many restaurants and chefs bring along with the season’s bounty. Again with the rules. She and the chefs she interviewed state that nobody should be breaking their arm trying to say “good job” to themselves just because their menu tracks the seasons like a sundial. It’s about the creativity exercised on the ingredients and not just because they are in season. Again, authenticity and creativity matter.

So where the hell I am going with this? Authenticity matters. Make it personal. Dig deeper. Be creative. Doing so will net rewards in the relationships you create and the opportunities you find in front of you. That’s where I’m going.

None of us should be writing about boring seasonal lineups of food and wine just because they are seasonal. Why praise chefs who aren’t being all that creative? Do you write about restaurants? Share the ones that really show you something, eat at the others. Wine? Scrap boring reviews and write about the people, the food or the setting. Beer? Same thing. The who and why trumps the what. Wine-making or beer-making? Ask about the why, you can learn the how.

“But I want to share and participate in the community!” Of course, we all do. When you don’t have something interesting to share be a cheerleader for other worthy individuals who do. They get feedback, you learn and the community gets bigger and stronger when we all do this.

I began writing this post soon after I got home from Vermont. The next day I came across a similarly themed post by friend and fellow blogger Richard Auffrey. In “Rant: No More Burgers & Cupcakes” Auffrey opens with the question “Whatever happened to originality?” Read the rest of his post for his thoughts on folks pig piling on food trends and the glut of trendy food that is neither original or interesting. This confirms I am not alone in my feelings and that the game is on.