Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sweet Dreams

I don’t know how many times since I started making my own fermented beverages (2003) people have asked me if I was going to go commercial. I’ve toyed with the idea, I still often daydream about it, but I’ve never convinced myself that I am really that serious about it that I would make the jump to being a commercial producer. Despite being a driven individual I do have a sense that some things in this universe reveal and work themselves out in their own time, and I firmly believe this is one of those things.

Short of commercial aspirations, my motivations continue to be to learn about the art of fermentation, make tasty “house” beverages, and pay homage to my New England roots by applying fermentation to preserve the bounty of the harvest. Each year since I began I’ve experimented with different mediums, flavors and techniques to keep things exciting and to keep the learning rolling. Six years back I made my first mead, honey fermented into a wine like beverage, and while it came out good and went on to win a medal, nothing about mead really grabbed me then so I didn’t make another one until 2011.

In December of 2010 I walked through the front door of Moonlight Meadery for the very first time. I immediately met Michael Fairbother the owner and meadmaker. Michael was busy at the tasting bar for the grand opening in their new commercial space. Michael carefully explained what mead is, the different styles and his personal history with mead-making to the assembled. On the back of the tasting bar was an impressive lineup of different meads, their product line has grown quite a bit since, ranging from dry to sweet, and unflavored to those infused with fruits and spices. As I tasted each new flavor my mind was racing. How are these different styles made? Is honey a canvas waiting for an artist to release its secrets? Could I successfully make more mead?

( Vanilla beans ready for my mead. )

Madagascar, a mead flavored with vanilla, really caught my attention. Real vanilla flavor can be an intoxicating experience. It is decidedly savory and earthy, and when blended with the slight sweetness of the mead it is allowed to express an inherent warmth and a gentle bitterness.

I left Moonlight Meadery that day with neurons firing all over the place. I wasn’t immediately sure of what to make of the experience, but I did know that I needed to educate myself a little bit more on mead. Tune in next week for post with an overview of mead leading up to mead being the topic for #winechat on October 3rd.

A few months later inspiration hit. Having recently returned from a West Coast trip that involved several beer tastings I had orange flavor on my mind. I enjoyed several Wit beers with varying degrees of orange flavor, including a sublime offering from Santa Barbara Brewing. Orange and vanilla, what a killer combination! When I was a kid I was allergic to chocolate so in the hot weather a creamsicle was, and still often is, more my style. I figured if I used orange and vanilla in a fermented beverage it would be a like an adult creamsicle, oh how delightful!

The recipe for my first mead in five years was decided (and the final product can be in the top photo). The process went smoothly, you can find the original recipe and some of the details at the WineMaker Magazine blog, and the result was beyond my personal expectations. A little orange, a little vanilla and whiffs of wildflower honey. Only slightly sweet, my new mead came off as complex and was immensely drinkable. As competition time rolled around I happily entered my creation hoping to get some useful feedback on where I could go with it. Boy was a surprised went it took first place in its category! The feedback was overwhelmingly positive from friends, both those who are knowledgeable about mead AND those who just love my fermented creations. This mead has gone on to take additional competition accolades, a very humbling result indeed.

I knew I could make it better though. And I planned to do just that in 2012. Before I set about planning my attack on the second batch I got an email that would serve to take this whole experience higher. Michael Fairborther, whom I have gotten to know both through the Brew Free or Die home-brewing club and my love of the products he creates, was interested in the recipe. But it gets better. He wanted to make a commercial version of my recipe in collaboration with me! And, wait for it, I would get to write a short paragraph to go on the side of the bottle as well as give the product a name! I was in shock.

Everyone who knows me knows that I make the beverages I do first and foremost because I want to drink them. I’m pragmatic about my craft though. I’m not the best brewer or winemaker out there, and I’ve purposely kept my process low-tech and simple which hasn’t always been the best decision. I’ve made my share of crappy products and I try my darnedest to keep on top of the various batches of stuff I have going on so nothing goes wrong, or at least terribly wrong.

So it took me a bit to wrap my head around the fact that a successful commercial producer wanted to collaborate with me. If this person thought my recipe was likely to make a commercially viable product I had to think beyond my own personal goals and see this as a vote of confidence that my inspirations and efforts were bearing grander results.

I decided to name the mead Summer Love. I choose the summer theme primarily because of my initial inspirations (creamsicles) and added love to marry with Moonlight’s own theme of Romance By The Glass. The idea that a product born from a recipe of my own would soon be available commercially was exciting to say the least.

( The mixer was a bit under-utilized for such a small batch, but it sure beats hand mixing! )

Time went by and I set about making my second batch, which is going to be better based on my pre-bottling tastings, and then the call came in. Honey was available and the desire to make a pilot batch was at hand. We finalized the details of the recipe based on the batch size, 40 gallons, and picked a date to make the new mead. As an aside, the name “Summer Love” has had unintended humorous consequences in Tweets and Facebook messages. Saying you are making summer love with somebody is a door wide open for jokes. Laugh freely, we do, it only adds to the story that this new beverage has around it!

( Chopping oranges for our creation. I didn't get a pic of me mopping the floor. I should have! )

I can’t really romanticize the process of making the mead, because I already knew how to make mead and a 40 gallon batch isn’t really a stretch in terms of equipment and process from my own enterprise. But, I had a blast doing something I love in a different way with people who are even more passionate about it than I. That's that's real life and a story worth telling!

( Me, Michael and Rick. Thanks for the fun day guys! )

I've spiced the pictures from the day throughout this post and they tell the story better than words. I very much enjoyed being able to spend the time with Michael and Rick bringing this new beverage to life. I was on site to work and I did anything and everything I could to help, including mopping the floor.

( Oranges through the port hole of the fermentation vessel. A rare artsy shot from me! )

Hopefully Summer Love will be finished and in the bottle for the holidays. The last report was that the fermentation was complete and it would soon get dosed with vanilla and be allowed to settle and age. I will definitely be letting everyone know when Summer Love is available so we can buy it all up and enjoy something new and different from Moonlight Meadery and Ancient Fire Wines!

Next Monday I will be posting an overview of mead, including a little history, notes on different styles and additional details of my mead-making projects from 2011 and 2012. If you would like to learn more about mead, and from Michael Fairbrother directly, join Moonlight Meadery, Marie Payton and the crew from #winechat on October 3rd at 9PM on Twitter.



Friday, September 21, 2012

In Uncertain Terms

( Local grape harvest in Lee, NH. )

Wine lovers have their own religion and their own politics. After getting a bit of a handle on the many differences within the community I have found that it all makes as much coherent sense as so many other things in our society, e.g. not much. A great many different perspectives based on diverse experiences are brought to bear, and the veracity of personal opinions turn preferences into crusades for supposed authenticity.

One of the points of contention between different groups of the faithful is the "localness" of the wine. Simply stated we are talking about the hierarchy of "locally grown" above "locally made". I'll also add to this the sense of place that surrounds the locations where "great" wines are grown and why that makes them more special than wines made combining multiple and "lesser" sources either local to the winery or much farther afield. Is this really true? Better for who? There is plenty of historical precedent for places and rules, and I am not suggesting at all that their shouldn't ever be any rules; but what exactly makes sense in the New World when the goal we all shouldn't lose sight of is fostering business and making money flow so people have jobs? We aren't the old places and not everyone wants to be them, so why are we trying?.

There is a glut of murky terminology used by some actors to try to distinguish themselves in this and other regards in the wine world. Words like real and honest are hard to clarify in the context that folks try to apply them. What is the opposite called and what is the specific difference? Unreal and dis-honest don't make sense. How is a wine made from grapes from out of the area not real or not honest, especially if the source is disclosed by the winemaker? Why should they not be allowed to do this if it makes business sense for them? Don't we want the market to mete out what of those types of choices work in the long run?

The 800lb gorilla (which Tom Wark nailed this week) goes like, "so all respectable craft should be 100% local?" and this question is still out there. I say no just on the principle that our societal evolution to a global network requires some accommodation for the new and different. Do we hold beer, all food, art, music, furniture (again Tom nailed this), etc, etc, to the same standard? If yes, ok; let's just say that such people are a mighty specific group and if this is how you roll, by all means go for it. If the answer is no, then why do we hold wine to such a standard?

What are the goals? That depends. At first glance you have a consumer perspective and a producer perspective. Sales trends suggest that while the majority of wine drinkers still don't choose to know what they drink much better than it takes to acquire it. Trends in craft beer, small production wine and micro-distillation do support the assertion of an up-tick in interest for wines that are produced on a smaller scale by someone with a specific principles and a passionate story driving them to make the stuff. The consumer is then two groups, one containing the average consumers and another containing something else, a super-consumer if you will.To the super-consumer people, places, specifics and philosophies do matter, but only because they choose for them to.

To me this is really a matter of taste, and I consider one of Terry Thiese's philosophies as a good guide. Don't look or talk down to people who have tastes such that they don't really appreciate wines that are universally considered fine (or meet your standards, whatever they may be), but in return don't allow them to suggest just because they have different tastes that your own refined tastes should be reviled as pretentious bullshit. Walk on the other side of the street if you want, but calling them out and suggesting that their lacking (your opinion) and the products they like shouldn't be allowed is just poor form. If you want your wine more or less local, have at it! Mine isn't better for me than yours is for you, and vice versa. Whether we recognize the fineness or localness in the product doesn't say anything good or bad about it or ourselves.Can't we all just get along?

Producers have a range of motivations, but for so many that I have asked these questions of they say they WANT to do as much as they can themselves and/or locally, but they are also trying to run a business and having options always make that process less stressful. There is plenty of theology thrown around when you get a group of producers talking about this topic, but in places where they are used to collaborating and working well together, you'll be sure to see more than one ranking opinion! If they don't agree on a "right" way, what are consumers doing pushing a more specific agenda?

Assuming anyone reads this I expect the flames to be duly fanned. I support a range of choices and drink what I like after I have experienced it in a way that fits my needs. I don't tell other people what they should or shouldn't drink and I definitely do not tell producers how to run THEIR businesses. But that doesn't mean I won't ask questions and won't make recommendations that all together are designed to increase the transparency of how products are made so producers can make what works for them AND consumers can choose the products that fit their politics the best. How do you do wine?



Saturday, September 15, 2012

Finding My Pappy’s - Milo's City Cafe in Portland, OR

My parents, Helzie (Mom) and Jeano (Dad), had one of the most loving relationships that I have ever seen. They somehow managed to maintain that love through raising six kids, three foster kids and on a shoestring budget. There was never much money for extras and if there was it was spent on us kids.  My parents have both been gone for some time now (18 years for my Dad and 10 for my Mom) and as I grow older I think of their relationship in a new light. For example, there were two things that my Dad would always find the money for: roses (ALWAYS red) for Helzie on special occasions, and a weekly breakfast at Pappy’s, the pizza place up the street.

Pappy’s was (is) a small local place where the booths are plastic and the cold drinks are served in paper cups. My parents went there so regularly that for a few Christmases the waitresses gave them presents. They went there for their one-morning-a-week breakfasts before Jeano dropped Helzie off at work. He changed up his order from time to time while she always got two eggs over easy with bacon and home fries. When my sisters and I want to feel closer to them we do not head to the cemetery, we meet at Pappy’s for lunch or dinner (they sadly no longer offer breakfast). I never really understood their obsession with Pappy’s breakfast; it was good food but not anything really special.
Then I went to Portland, Oregon and walked into Milo’s City Cafe…..

Jay knows that one of my favorite things to do on vacation is to go out to breakfast, and it is an even bigger score if they have Eggs Benedict. He did some research and found Milo’s, it fit the criteria and was a few blocks from the hotel.  The moment that we walked in it felt like home, the interior was so bright and welcoming. There were booths and tables to select from and with the cheerful “Welcome, sit where ever you like” from someone behind the counter I knew we had found a gem. Our waitress, Redd, was as sassy as could be and you could tell she genuinely loved her job. Actually everyone who worked there seemed happy, not in a fake Disney-like way but really, truly, just in a good mood.

Of course I ordered one of the Eggs Benedict dishes, and wanting to try something different I got the vegetarian version (which we didn't get a picture of) with a tomato in place of the Canadian bacon. However, after some gentle ribbing from Redd, I also got a side of their house pepper bacon. (We would later be introduced to Redd’s Bacon bibles which are a sight to see, request to see them when you go!) Both Jay and I agreed that the bacon was amazing, as was the locally handmade and grilled sausage Jay ordered. The Eggs Benedict was delightful as expected, the tomato was so flavorful and fresh with the acidity cutting through the hollandaise. Writing this I can almost taste each item as I describe it (the tell of a great restaurant). The coffee was strong and dark, real coffee, not anything fancy with froth; just simple coffee brewed well. When we left Milo’s I made Jay promise we would be back before we left Portland.

It was on our second visit that it dawned on me, I had found my Pappy’s. I was thousands of miles away from home in a place my parents had never been, but I felt them all around me. Sitting there with my Jeano (Jay) I felt a sense of connectivity to the adult that I am and the people my parents were. I was seeing them as adults with their own story, not just as my parents. This is what they felt when they walked into that place each week, they felt like in this big universe they had found their spot to just…be. Sure, the food at Milo’s is really good, fresh and very well prepared (not to mention inexpensive) but it was the whole experience that made it special. (For the record they also serve lunch and dinner.)

We shared our thoughts with our server on the second visit (Redd was not in). After telling us he would share it with the higher ups he pointed to or check…with the server name Milo clearly filled out. Connecting with him about the experience and enjoyment of it made it even more special.

It makes me sad to think that my Pappy’s is so far way but I rejoice in having found it. Far too often when we blog about food and drink we put the emphasis on the technicalities. I hope that each of you can have a moment like I did, when for some inexplicable reason you feel connected through time and space to people you have lost or memories long gone. I am forever a fan of Milo’s City Cafe and will visit each and every time I am even CLOSE to Portland. To Milo, the owner and our server, I will say that I hope you take some joy out of creating, for me, the perfect place to help me to miss my parents a little bit less. I thank you.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Us Fighting Cancer Together

OK, I'm asking for something. But also being honest. As you all know, I think CANCER SUCKS. To FIGHT BACK I pledge some of my time and money to fight it. Can you help me? Here's my crazy pitch, I'd love it everyone would give me donations, but some folks don't feel like they can generously and the time spent to make small donations is too much. How about $5, but not just from you, but also from people you know? You might not have $20 personally, but if you ask a few people and 3 more say yes to $5, you do have $20. And I think that rocks, and that is you, me and all our friends making a difference! A HUGE difference.

Margot and I are participating in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event in Manchester, NH on October 21st. 

This is the first NH cancer event I participated in, in 2003. This is where my involvement in Relay For Life (in 2004) was hatched, and for many years I participated in and helped with logistics and setup for this very event. I'm back at that this year, as well as walking with Margot Cote Phelps and Melissa Woodside Prunier, after a few years making a difference with both of them and the Northeast Delta Dental Team in Concord. 

Online donations are the easiest way using the link below.


For interested local folks, Margot and I are hosting a wine tasting to celebrate the 2011 Finger Lakes Riesling Launch on September 22nd. If you would like to receive the invite send me your address in a private message.



Wine Bloggers – Who and What Are We?

( My #WBC11 wine blogger posse photo-bombing dinner with some locals peeps. )

Wine Bloggers – Who and What Are We?

In the opening paragraph of my first #WBC12 post, Doon,Been, What, Huh? – Matters of Experience I conjectured that “The wine bloggers conference is a lot of things to a lot of people, or it should be.” I can further clarify what I meant here by saying that the Wine Bloggers Conference attendance is composed of a wide range of different people with a diverse set of interests. There really should be something for everyone. But do we truly come together despite our diversity?

Diversity is a good thing by so many measures. Lots of different ideas and tastes being co-mingled keeps things interesting. But diversity does have its challenges. Developing a coordinated community with common goals when such diverse interests are in play is the particular challenge I am thinking of.

First off, who are we?
  1. First we've got the writers. These talented folks know how to write and could write about anything, but they are passionate about wine so that is their muse. Whether they attempt to educate about wine or write flowing, beautiful prose about wine appreciation, writers are constantly looking for new experiences to inspire them. This group often gets a specific session at the conference where consideration of what makes a blogger a writer and how bloggers should factor writing into their efforts takes place. Just so I am clear, not every wine blogger is ever going to be in this group. Why? First off some folks don't aspire and others don't focus on their writing enough. For some wine blogging is strictly about providing information and not experience, and the quality of such writing is always going to be viewed differently. Others still use photos or video as their medium and the few words they do write glue things together pretty well. 
  2. We've also got our educators. Many of the conference attendees are wine educators in some capacity, and their pursuit of life-long learning about wine, food and other beverages drives them to be at the conference and anywhere they can learn more. Meeting new people to share their experiences and education with is implicit it their being. Some in this group find themselves at the front of the content sessions leading discussions or moderating panels.
  3. Then we've got our producers and agents of wineries. Some of the attendees to the broader conference are producers (winemakers, tasting room managers, marketing managers, etc) and enjoy both sides of the conference. Attending the conference for the potential exposure, educational content and the overall good times positions them well to meet new followers and share stories from their corner of the wine world.
  4. People who represent trade associations, media outlets, product suppliers, co-operatives and legal interests are yet another group. Bloggers that are specifically focused on the wine business and not consumer topics also fit in here. This group is the poster child for the ideas presented here because the people within it have their own diverse priorities. Much like producers they are angling for both additional exposure and new channels for their products and services to be available in.
  5. We’ve got our buyers and sellers. These are the wine buyers, wine shop owners, distribution agents and folks from all parts of the wine supply chain. These folks are often hunting for new wines, new accounts and new markets.
  6. We’ve got folks who are zeroed in on specific topics or have personal politics that prompt them to focus on certain aspects of wine and the wine business. They are on the ground looking to answer specific questions and be advocates for specific choices. In Portland I’d say this group was best identified by those folks who were interested in the bio-dynamic, organic and sustainable themes.
  7. What connects us all and acts as an umbrella for folks that don’t specifically identify with any of the above descriptions? This is the group is made up of what I am calling the wine enthusiasts & networkers. This is where that drive and second life travelling to hang out with wine people where wine is made and enjoyed is what for fun comes from. These people best represent what could be considered the uber-wine-consumer, educated, mobile and thirsty. I think the consumer thread binds us together more than we admit. I'm going to drill into my thoughts on this topic in an upcoming post. This group is made up by people who are really interested in using wine to live well. The agenda here is pretty basic, fun (the party people fit in well here) meeting new people, experiencing new wines & food resulting in a shit-ton of good memories to take home. 
Some attendees cross-cut several of these definitions and the groupings are being presented more to illustrate the diverse priorities than to represent a hierarchy or a legitimization of one class over another. People new to wine blogging might not initially fit into any of the specific camps and can self-select over time.

What we end up with is a pretty diverse set of priorities to coalesce.

This diversity can be witnessed first hand by looking at the growing blog post directory from #WBC12.

So where do we go from here?

How do we build a coordinated community embracing all of our inherent diversity? What are the common goals? Is a code of ethics and standards, something all good-functioning communities or associations need, something we all will aspire to? 

Flipping it around, what problems do we currently wrestle with because of this diversity? Are there aspects to the Wine Bloggers Conference that shake out the way they do because of the need to transcend all these differences?

Problems exist and anytime we get together as a group I have little doubt that we all want events to be better than they have been before, but that only happens when we recognize and work on the things we’ve struggled with and don’t like. But do we, or is it just a small group of folks who have recognized the needs and their role in stewarding us along?

Here are a couple (and just a couple) of my observations from #WBC12 that I think we as as a community could use some work on:
  • Respect for presenters and guests to events. Seriously. We all need to shut up when someone is addressing the group. Gossip at a break. If you can’t contain yourself, excuse yourself and go somewhere else. This is an ethics and standards thing. Respect should be given to those that have been invited as guests to participate in our events. We should extend this respect to our peers who might care about something we clearly don’t if we can’t keep our yap shut.
  • Proffering and furthering bad or meaningless advice. The giving of advice is a serious business, and we should take the opportunity to give it to others more seriously. The best examples might be “be yourself” or “write in your own voice”. What do they mean? When saying this does the person mean “take the time to better understand who you are and your motivations so you can be aware enough to write and engage with them in mind?” If not, I think a key point is being lost. Even if this is the intended meaning, the two statements really aren't the same thing and the generalization is nowhere near as useful on its own as we might hope. When one of the goals of our group is to support each other we should make sure the advice we give is useful.
  • Impact measurement. Everyone in this group is curious about the impact we might have, some even pronounce it specifically, but where is the evidence? In order for us to answer the impact and influence questions we have to define how to measure these cohorts and consistently capture data in order to do so. We can’t wait for anyone else to do this. Why? Because they won’t be trying to answer the same questions and they won’t have the trust of enough of our ranks to make it real.
Overall these are some big questions and I don’t presume to have complete answers to any of them. I have my opinions about certain realities found in those questions, but I’ve yet to conclude how I relate to others on the same topics. One of the major realities, something Joe Roberts (1WineDude) articulated so well already this week in Wine Blogging Isn't Dead, is that wine blogging is still very young and we are short on answers of what and when results should be expected from us collectively. Maybe some conversation and follow-on posts in response to this will help me and the community at large with these quandaries.

So I ask these questions to all you, my peers I the wine blogging community. Who are we?  What are we? What should our goals be? How do we take this community to the next level?



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Semillon My Way

Hunter Valley. Semillon. Not knowing much about either I jumped at the opportunity to taste a small lineup of Hunter Valley wines; not only Semillon, although it was the star. Little did I know that as part of the experience I would be taking down Semillon Oyster Shooters with the winemaker!

Big thank you’s for organizing and hosting the event go out to Iain Riggs (winemaker & co-owner) and the team at Brokenwood Wines, Joyce Hulm and the fine folks at Old Bridge Cellars, the staff at Towne Stove& Spirits and the leadership of the Boston Sommelier Society. We were very well taken care of!

Not knowing anything about the Hunter Region (best known as Hunter Valley), except that it is located in Australia, I asked Iain Riggs to explain a little bit about the region. The Hunter Valley is located north and west of Sydney and is considered warm and sub-tropical. I did some research after the event, finding that the Hunter Region is considered one of Australia’s warmest and wettest regions. Temperatures range from the mid 70’s (F) at the height of the growing season to just below 40 (F) in the winter. The region’s proximity to the coast is a key influence, allowing for the cooler air and moisture to be drawn in from the ocean. One of the region’s challenges is rainfall (the average at Brokenwood is 29 inches annually) which can come heavy in that sub-tropical way some of us might imagine. And most of it comes during harvest months, creating significant hazard. The relatively higher humidity of the region also creates disease stress, something Riggs noted as a particular challenge for the 2012 harvest.

( The Hunter Valley extends Northwest of Newcastle on the coast. 
Approved use by WikiMedia Commons)

In 2012 Riggs completed his 42nd harvest as a winemaker and his 30th with Brokenwood Wines. When I quipped, “that’s a lot of us experience” his response was “yeah, it definitely is.” I asked how things had changed in 42 years working in the Australian wine industry and his response was less specific, yet no less telling. Riggs said, “wine works in cycles and I’ve seen quite a few of them.”  I didn’t get a chance to ask what the current cycle looked like, but we were gearing up to taste the first wine so a topic switch was reasonable.

Joyce Hulm from Old Bridge Cellars had set us up in the upstairs bar at Towne and proceeded to get the 2010 Semillon poured for everyone. I’ve had a couple Semillon’s from Australia before, but this was early on before I kept good track of what I was drinking so I have no useful recollection. I immediately pulled lots of lemon from the nose. The minerality and steeliness of the wine was also accessible in the nose. On the palate the wine married a bit of melon with the lemon and I found savory herbs hiding in the finish. There is some body here, but just a little bit to consider. In conversation with TJ & Scott comparisons to both Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc arose. The three of us kicked around the similarities and differences and considered the seafood pairing scenarios of each. Both are close but neither is a layup for me. Pinot Blanc is the closest, especially those that project a bit of creamy texture from neutral wood. Sauvignon Blanc is too grassy, green and the acidity is far too razor sharp for me to make the link. The finish of this wine is short (not to a fault) and all together the wine does not present as complex, rather very straightforward and VERY drinkable. The acidity is healthy, but not racing mad, and works very well as a palate cleansing function. This is a slam dunk for an aperitif or cocktail party wine. This and the other two Semillons we tasted next range in alcohol between 11 and 12 percent.

( Broken Wood Hunter Valley Semillon 2010. )

The next wine we tasted was the 2006 Oaky CreekSemillon. The reserve Semillon’s from Brokenwood are now released with six years of age. I anecdotally knew that good Semillon was age-worthy, but this was my first real test of that idea. The wine is creamy and herbal with restrained citrus and minerality compared to the first wine. The body is noticeably bigger and softer. Hints of lanolin made me think of Chenin Blanc. The mellowed acidity further enhanced the perception of body, but this is no flabby wine. This wine is also drinkable, but is a much different wine requiring different position than the first. Paired with seafood, lightly prepared white meats, some salads and steamed vegetables is where I would place it on the table.

(Iain Riggs tasting and discussing the nights' wines. )

Right about then the food arrived. Lobster pizza. A few moments later Riggs wandered over to where I was sitting and pulled up a chair. My immediate question was “how do you see your Semillons best paired with food.” Having already noted that I would expect seafood pairings to work, I was eyeing the lobster pizza. Riggs echoed this and as he was talking the raw bar consisting of oysters, prawns and lobster tails arrived. The flavors of the lobster on the pizza popped with the wine. The corn, honey, ricotta cheese layered on the thin crust all came together nicely.

( Lobster Pizza at Towne Stove. So good! )

Next up was the 2006 ILR (think winemaker's initials) Reserve Semillon. This specific wine was made from a single block in Oaky Creek vineyard, but the grape selection for this wine varies from year to year. The nose on this wine was the lightest of the three with more of a toasty, creamy shift. The wine tasted of lemon candy and lime curd, the texture and body helping to bring these flavors out, with only some of the minerality and herbal notes I found in the other wines. 

( Raw Bar at Towne Stove. If I have to! )

I’m not much for oysters on the half shell, but Riggs suggested a shooter whereby the Semillon was poured over the oyster while in the shell and that it be shot like that. With that encouragement I walked the walk. Pretty good. I don’t mind the brininess of oysters, but I did find that the 2006 ILR with its restrained acidity was slower to clean up the trail of the oyster than I am used to. I shot a second one with the 2010 Semillon and got the affect I was familiar with. That would be my recommended pairing from these wines for folks who like a quick and clean exit from oysters. The 2006 ILR Reserve wine was delightful with lobster tail and prawns. The flavors in both meats were readily accessible and were gently cradled by the creamy notes in the wine. Almost like having a little butter where there was in fact none.

Back to the age-worthiness. While we were talking Riggs said I should consider coming back to this very wine in five and then another ten years. He said they would still be lively and equally enjoyable the same way they were tonight. I asked him what an unusual pairing for an aged Semillon might be and he suggested lemon meringue pie. Both being acidic, he feels that the wine can stand up to the sweetness in the pie so long as it is tart and not overly sweet. I think that the creaminess in the wine and the texture and flavors in the crust would be worthy matches as well. Exceptional!

I then asked what he looks for in the reserve wines in order to the select them. Overall they are selected for their purity, balance and acidity, a primary indicator of the ability to take age. The desired results when the wines are aged is that stay balanced, the nest can offer up lime juice and talc. In describing the acidity he used what he said was a specific Aussie winemaking phrase, “line in length”. Clarifying the phrase, he said this is the “acid drive” in a wine. A young wine that has a line of acid right through it that is also in balance from beginning to end is said to have “line in length”. Such young wines are great young and have the potential to go on to be great aged wines as well.

( Brokenwood Shiraz. )

We finished the tasting with a migration to Shiraz. First up was the 2009 Hunter Valley Shiraz. I really liked this wine. It is dry and doesn’t all try to be juicy or meaty like some Aussir Shiraz is known for. Bountiful red and purple fruits play in the dry tannins and moderate acidity. There are vectors of spice and smoke, but not jarring or out of balance and the alcohol clocks in at 14%. The moderate finish contains some savory herbal or leafy note.

The final wine was the Graveyard 2007 Shiraz. This wine is made from grapes harvested from an mid-20th century vineyard now producing Brokenwood’s flagship red. As Hulm was pouring the wine she explained that in Australia the Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz is considered the third best Australian wine only two steps down from Penfolds Grange. Wow, that is esteemed company! That said, this wine isn’t quite as expensive as Grange, but not by much. I don’t punish wine on price, but it does mean I will not have many future occasions to savor those higher price point wines that I enjoy at tastings.

The nose on the 2007 Graveyard is earthy with lots of red fruits. Just from the nose you know this is a bigger wine. And it definitely is, but I still feel is shows some restraint in the pantheon of Aussie Shiraz. Bold and spicy this wine definitely makes you stop and consider it. There is no doubt this is a wooded and aged wine, but again it is balanced and not at all hot. At 13.5% ABV is is bold, juicy, but not hot. The wine is not bone dry and has plenty of tannins to hold the structure of it together.

( Short rib pizza at Towne Stove. )

With the BBQ short rib pizza I preferred the 2009 Hunter Valley Shiraz. It is friendlier to food in my opinion, its austerity and restrained weight being more versatile, and I feel these attributes also  mean it can span a broader range of palates with or without food.

So what did I learn? Semillon is really great with seafood, but it presents much more opportunity than that. The right white wines, good Semillon in this case, can in fact be aged for several years before release and not miss a beat in the glass. When a winemaker says “you going to do an oyster shooter?”, unless you are allergic, you follow their lead and do it. Warm growing regions can produce wines with reasonable levels of alcohol that are still balanced overall. I had forgotten how much I enjoy well-made wines from Australia.

The title of this post could have also been “show me the way” and afterwards I could have happily asked "do you feel like we do?" Big thanks to Peter Frampton and Frampton Comes Alive for being the soundtrack to my late summer 



Sunday, September 9, 2012

Brewed Inspiration – Visiting Allagash Brewery

( Happy birthday honey, sorry the weather sucked! )

One day in Maine. What do you do in Maine on a cool, rainy day right after Labor Day? Well, you make the best of it. When Margot and I scheduled the day off, Margot’s actual birthday, we envisioned a warm, sunny day hanging out on a nearly empty beach (kids back in school, suckers!) enjoying the last remnants of summer. Nope. Low clouds, mist, rain, cool winds and no real motivation to hang on the beach. The beach was empty though!

( I still find this natural beauty worth any amount of time I can get with it. )

We did stroll on the beach during a lull in the rain, Long Sands on York Beach to be exact. Very empty and with the tide out we got to walk almost the whole length and back. We’ve walked those steps in the rain while on vacation here before, and like I said we had to make the best of it. We mocked the birds who were clearly weary of the silly humans, peered into the tidal pools between all the rocks, watched the surfers and shot the shit while we walked along. It really is the simple things in life.

From there we headed off to Portland angling for some tasty fried seafood and a jaunt through the shops adjacent to Commercial Street. The rain came back in force, but luckily that was in between getting to PortlandLobster Company for lunch and heading out after demolishing more than our share of fried delights. The shops were fun but not a big draw. This day sounds pretty freaking exciting doesn’t it? And where is the inspiration I refer to in the title? Keep reading.

( Sweet! )

Our final stop was the Allagash Brewery. I’ve been drinking Allagash beer for about 10 years, or at least as long as we moved to NH (2001) and I started seeing their beers on tap and in the stores. First came the White and then the Tripel for me. I’ve taken down my share of their Dubbel as well. But until this day I hadn’t stopped in to check out their tasting room and retail shop. Why? Who the hell knows, I just hadn’t. When a beer is so readily accessible it is sometimes easy to forget to head to the source I guess.

I won’t say I LOVE Belgian beers like they are all I drink. But I do very much appreciate Belgian and Belgian-styled beers. When I got to Montreal I find the concentration of Belgian-inspired beers to be a magnet for me. I've made several Belgian-style beers over the years and enjoy them so much they never last very long.

Allagash makes Belgian-styled or Belgian-inspired beers, in New England no less, and that is the key reason why I have become a fan of their products. Visiting now was timely for Margot and I. We are planning on making a Belgian Dubbel in October and feel that we need some inspiration. We also have a return trip planned to Montreal before we brew. That ought to cap off our need for experience before we fire up the brew pot!

( The day's tasting selections. )

The flagship beer at Allagash is the White. A Belgian-style wheat beer brewed with coriander and orange peel, this style of beer has become pretty common lately. The macro-brewers have gotten into the game, admittedly this style of beer is a straightforward way to introduce a bit of character to people’s drinking habits, but nothing brewed in those large volumes is going to touch the complexity and nuance of the Allagash offering. This was the first beer in our tasting and oh the memories it brought back! Smooth, creamy with just a little spice and tartness in the finish.

( Pouring the White for the tasting participants. )

Next up was the Tripel. This is another of the Allagash beers that I can readily buy at home. I’ve taken down my share of 22 ouncers of this high ABV (9%) beer before, and it really does pack a punch. But it tastes so good! Honey, island fruits and grassy notes all wrapped up in a light bodied, cloudy ale with a smooth finish.

From there we ventured next to the Curieux, the Tripel aged in Bourbon Barrels. The difference here is both the strength (11%) and the wood aging notes including vanilla, coconut and of course bourbon. This shit (used for emphasis) is incredible! If you like the Tripel and like how wood aging affects beers, this is the Allagash beer for you! I am thinking that buying only one to take home was nowhere near enough!

( Could you load that right into my jeep. I'm looking for LARGE format here! )

The last beer of the pre-tour tasting was the Fluxus. Fluxus isn’t a single beer, rather a slot that gets filled with a different beer each year brewed in commemoration of the first Allagash sale in July of 1995. This year's beer is a Golden Strong Ale brewed with green and pink peppercorns. Another ringer for me. I love the Golden Strong style (that is what I made in May) so this was a real treat. Another one in the basket to bring home!

The tour wasn’t actually hugely notable for us. This might sound arrogant (it is really experience though) but when you have toured as many breweries and wineries as we have AND make your own, a tour of a brewery doesn’t typically offer much unique or interesting. We didn’t get to see the Coolship (an open fermenting vessel for wild yeast fermentations), but I did ask our guide if there had been any analysis of the yeasts that have been found working away on the Coolship brews. The answer was yes and that there were some interesting, but non-public findings. None of the Coolship series beers, released randomly and typically without notice, were available for purchase which just means I have to plan to go back!

( Yeah I know, the safety glasses are hot! )

Since the Dubbel wasn’t being poured but was available for purchase, that and some of the Black Ale (Belgian styled Stout) also came home with us. A sit down with the Dubbel is going to be necessary before we finalize the recipe for our upcoming brew.

Our final act in honor of Maine was to use the lobster meat we bought at the Harbor Fish Market to make colossal lobster rolls. Damn good I tell ya!

So how’s that for one day in Maine including an inspiring trip to Allagash Brewing that will reflect it's influence on of our homemade beers creating future enjoyment for us and our friends?



Friday, September 7, 2012

Images from Oregon

While I further ponder over and distill my experiences from my #WBC12 and post-conference adventures to Oregon I offer the following photo journal of the trip.



Decibel Dan sharing his New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Dan is so much fun to hang with!

Even the bottle was sweating. A bit hot at Rex Hill on Friday afternoon!

Vines at Rex Hill. 

If you haven't met the winery dog, you haven't been to the winery.

Ryan Collins from Rex Hill talking to the group about thinning clusters from the vines.

I love gnarly old vines!

A beautiful place to spend the afternoon!

Michael Davies from Rex Hill talking about the soil profile in the vineyard.

Scott Schull from Raptor Ridge talking about vine health and vineyard practices.

Our hosts from Rex Hill, Raptor Ridge, Ponzi and Le Cadeau setting up flight #2.

Mike Willison from Rex Hill with a whole lotta love for the group in hand!

Whites to cool us off!

Chef Dustin Clark getting the NY Strip just right for dinner.

Killer menu for the dinner at Rex Hill. The corn soup was out of sight!

We know you love us Mike, now open that damn thing!

Twenty year old Pinot that tasted much younger than that. A real treat!
A big thank you to Rex Hill, Raptor Ridge, Ponzi and Le Cadeau!

Another trip where I brought the Moonlight with me. And many folks enjoyed the selection.

This late night pic clearly needed a re-shoot. Or I needed to put the camera down!

Smiles from conference friends with full glasses. Cheers!

The cinnamon rolls from Grand Central Baking were so tasty! 
The biscuits they used for the sandwiches were as well. 

A beer truck. Portland IS my kind of town!

Margot (on right) with her friend Amy who ventured down from Seattle for a day.

Gotta get your Voodoo on whilst in Portland!

The Maple Bacon doughnut paired with homemade Maple Syrup Dessert wine. 
Breakfast of wine blogging champions!

Beer sampler at Bridgeport Brewing. This place has a great space, good food and delicious beer!

SakéOne was on my must hit list and I am so glad we went!

The koji growing room at SakéOne.

Happily fermenting saké. 

Enjoying the saké tasting at the end of the tour. SakéOne has an incredible lineup of products!

Thank you SakéOne!

Deschutes Brewing - and all their own beers!

Beer samplers are like taking the pulse of a brewery!

Hard at work studying my subject!

The Oregon coastline is incredibly beautiful and looks much different than home!

That is a whole lotta nothing out there!

Rogue Brewing was also on our radar for the trip.

Margot used to be able to drink that much beer!

Now she just drinks from the kiddie cups!

Loved sampling beers only available at the brewery.

I asked him if needed my address to get that stack of Dead Guy to NH safely. No dice.

More beautiful shoreline views. 

We definitely were enjoying our extended vacation.

Not for swimming, just looking at. 

There were a few seals in the water not far from the people.

The Yaquina light.


Yup, still enjoying it!

Not too many birds on this day, but they clearly spend time there!

The vineyard at Sokol Blosser.

We stopped in at Dobbes Family Estate for a tasting and more of the story.

The soon to be released Viognier is a real stunner. 

Stackable fermentation vessels. I need some of those!

Margot the goofball. We do have a Sonic about an hour from us at home, but we haven't been there.

We got to visit with our friend Allison who recently moved to Portland from CT. 

Hip Chicks Do Wine
They are hip chicks and they do wine very well in fact. Very cool concept and excellent values!

Our vote for the best brewery in Portland. They are all so good though!

Lots of choices!

And I think I will try them all! Kentucky Christmas was the most unique one in the lineup!

No visit to Portland is complete without eating at Pok Pok!

The cocktails are inspired and refreshing. A Red Rooster.

The drinking vinegar sodas are so unique! Pomegranate. 

I can't remember which drink that is, but Margot enjoyed it!

Fish sauce wings. I've got the recipe and will be recreating this very soon!

Our server was so much fun and clearly a good sport!

Signing off with this. Portland we love you and will be back in 2013!