Friday, November 30, 2012

Wine, Sun & Fun – Lakeridge Winery, Clermont Florida

( Harvest for 2012 is already done in Florida. )

Florida's nickname is the Sunshine State and its agriculture industry is no doubt successful in part because of the abundant sunshine and moderate climate. Grape growing and winemaking aren’t what most people think of when they think of Florida grown however. This wasn’t exactly obvious when we (Margot and I ) visited Lakeridge Winery in Clermont, Florida though.

Lakeridge Winery was busy with tour groups, with groups both before and after us completely filling the tasting bar following the tour. Everyone, employees and patrons, were smiling, laughing and obviously having fun. With a constant stream of club members and retail buyers (they were running a pre-Thanksgiving wine sale which we took advantage of) I couldn't help but think that the locals might have something special at Lakeridge.

( Impressive! )

Lakeridge Winery is the largest winery in Florida and is owned by the group that also owns and operators San Sebastian Winery in St. Augustine, which is the second largest in the state. Gary Cox founded Lakeridge in 1988, choosing the central Florida ridge are in part due to the area’s rich agricultural heritage, to site the winery.  Lakeridge is a family business and both Gary's wife Carole and son Charles are involved in day to day operations. Production for both wineries is done at the Lakeridge facility, where in 2011 they produced 1.8 million bottles of wine!

( Left over from the recent harvest. I didn't clarify what kind it was. )

Muscadine is the primary grape type grown and vinified by Lakeridge, although their work with hybrid grapes has resulted in success with several varieties including the Stover and Blanc du Bois varieties. A warm, humid climate can create disease and pest pressures, but both the Muscadine and hybrid varieties are at least partially resistant to some forms of disease and surprisingly pest resistant such that they require no pesticides for normal operation. Irrigation is required, but with the use of a drip system in conjunction with the typical rainfall the amount of supplemental water needed is manageable.

Our tour guide, Shep (seen on the left), shared a brief history of the winery and then cued up a short video presentation that explained more about the regional agricultural history and how Lakeridge came to be. 

As we walked through the facility Shep further explained their process and capacity to the group. Consistently injecting humor into the volume of information he commanded, Shep both educated and entertained us. With this I began to understand part of the reason why the Lakeridge Winery is popular. 

Shep also said something that resonated with me after dozens of winery visits in the last few years. “The advantage of the wine business over other types of product businesses is that we get to see and interact with our customers.” That personal connection does indeed make a difference and clearly they get that at Lakeridge. After hearing about the annual festivals they host, and furthermore how well attended the events are, I could see how the blend of wine, sun and fun that Lakeridge offers is so successful.

Our next stop was the tasting bar, a place I had been looking forward to saddling up to since I had planned the vacation to Florida. As for Florida wine, I'd only have had the port wine from San Sebastian Winery before, but that was some time ago and was the extent of my Florida wine experience. As an advocate of wine made in all sorts of places my curiosity drove me to find out if there was a winery near where we were staying when I was planning the trip. As luck would have it Lakeridge was only thirty minutes north of our home base for the week.

Now that I've visited what did I find? A beautiful location, fun people and wines that made me reevaluate my expectations. For the record I didn’t have low expectations, yet my reasonably optimistic ones were actually still too low. That kind of surprise is welcome any day!

We tasted nine wines, including a mix of hybrid and Muscadine-based wines. In general all of these wines do present differently than vinifera-based wines, but that statement should offer no surprise to anyone who understands the difference in the three types of grapes. The hybrid whites were generally citrus driven with a moderate level of acidity. The Cuvee Blanc was well polished and didn’t immediately make me think hybrid grape or an atypical origin. The one hybrid red we tasted posted up tart cherries and had a small amount of fine tannins. The Muscadine-based whites are generally grapey in the nose with flavors reminiscent of fruit salad with citrus finishes. The sparkling rose trended to strawberry and raspberry in the mouth. The Muscadine reds were tart and driven primarily by cherry and cranberry flavors.

Three wines stood out for us. The first was the Sunblush Rose. It has a sweet finish which offers a balance to the tart fruit salad I found on the palate. This wine and a hot, sunny day would be a fantastic combination. I could also see making an exceptional sangria or wine cocktail with it.

The second wine that made a strong impression, and one I had heard good things about, was the Pink Crescendo sparkling Rose. Tasting like berries with a Sweet Tart-like finish I couldn’t help but smile after taking a sip of this wine. The carbonation was fine and mouth filling. The finish was not at all too sweet. For whatever gathering I serve this wine at I suspect there will be intense disappointment amongst the imbibers when it is gone!

The last wine we both rated highly was Southern Red. A Muscadine-based, sweet, red wine it had both an attractive nose and a full-flavored palate for us to enjoy. It is a sweet red, a style some people don’t like, but I felt that in this instance it works very well. Slight cooked, sweet fruits is the best analogy to the way the flavors came together. You could use this wine on the table with food, and even cook with it, just as well as you could give it a little chill and sit in the backyard watching the world go by.

( Lakeridge Winery - Clermont, FL )

Back to the wine sale. As we were looking through the wines available to purchase we heard someone talking about the buy-one-case-get-one-case sale. Huh? Yup, 50% off.  For the month of November, if you bought one case you got another for the price of the 12 most expensive bottles. We purchased all of our favorites and a couple bottles that were not available for tasting due to low production volume; looking forward to sharing Florida wine with our friends back home. The interesting twist was that Lakeridge can only ship us one case of wine per month according to the New Hampshire direct shipping rules. So what did we do with that second case of wine? We gave it to the friends we were staying with!

I was so happy on my ride back to the vacation house. Seeing a winery that busy somewhere in the "Other 46" and then enjoying their wines is a strong reminder that wine is special because it is about the people and a place. In the case of Florida, you add the mild weather and lots of sun and the fun can't help but get in line!



Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Half Full Glass - November 29th, 2012

So, I finally got this new weekly column thing calibrated. It's amazing what a vacation and  a holiday can do to a screw up a schedule! This new column is where I will feature notable beverages that I've enjoyed within the last couple of weeks.

Florida Beers

During a week-long trip to the Orlando, Florida area I sampled a number of Florida beers and found several that I would highly recommend. I sampled in a number of settings, on draft at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival and Big River Grille, then from bottles back at my vacation place and at the Bahama Breeze.  
In general Florida brewers are embracing lighter styles (lager, pilsner, wheat beers) but based on the climate and cuisine, I see this working well. I was able to taste a range of beers, including several IPAs and brown beers in addition to Pilsner, Lager and Wheat beers.

At the Epcot Food & Wine Festival the Florida Beer Company's Key West Southernmost Wheat was my favorite amongst it, the Florida Lager and Devil's Triangle IPA also from the same producer. Light, with a slightly creamy texture, the crisp finish and light body of this beer would make it versatile with a range of local foods. The Devil's Triangle IPA was good, but the bitterness felt a little forced. I'll share more on the Epcot Food & Wine Festival in a separate post.

I stopped at World of Beer in Clermont, Florida and selected six singles to take home to share with a friend. The photo below shows the lineup which included the Florida Brewing Key West Sunset Lager, OBP LLC Orange Blossom Pilsner, Holy Mackerel Special Golden Ale, Florida Brewing Swamp Ape, Cigar City Brewing Jai Alai IPA and Cigar City Brewing Maduro Brown Ale.

All the beers were well made and plenty drinkable. The Sunset Lager is pretty straightforward and didn't garner much comment. The Orange Blossom Pilsner, one of two of the beers brewed under contract in SC, was nice blend of a wit style beer with honey. It smelled and tasted like oranges with some honey notes in the finish. The Holy Mackerel Golden Ale was an exceptional drinker. A Belgian beer all the way, it was a bit yeasty, spicy and fruity. Lively and super drinkable. The Swamp Ape was my favorite. A sweeter IPA, similar to DFH 90 I'd reckon, it was smooth, hoppy and so delicious! Both of the Cigar City beers were very well polished, but the Maduro Brown Ale won the face off. I had this beer before the two other brown beers I enjoyed next, and it was the best non-pale ale so far. Rich, nutty and full on the palate. It isn't a huge beer so you could drink a few to make you real happy!

The Big River Grille & Brewpub on Disney's Boardwalk is a brewpub/restaurant owned by the same group that operates Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch. Their holiday beers were on tap and we checked out both the Winter Brown Ale and Winter's Nip Holiday Bock after a relaxing walk of the boardwalk and adjacent resorts. The Winter's Nip Bock is a fantastic, moderately malty brown beer with hints of spice and banana in the nose. Definitely a nice warmer for those cool Florida winter days. I could drink way too many of these!

At the Bahama Breeze I paired Orlando Brewing's Organic Blonde Ale with the Mahi tacos for lunch. Definitely a great combination. The beer on its own is flavorful, dry with hints of citrus in the finish. Perfect with lighter fare.

Thanksgiving Wine

What wine to pair with Thanksgiving is always a sporting topic for the wine media to attend to this time each year. I've done it in several recent rotations (2008, 2010, 2011), but opted not to in 2012. There is no "right" or "perfect" answer to "what wines do I pair with Thanksgiving dinner?" and exactly who graces your table and what kind of mood everyone is in is much more of a concern than the wine. But, this year what I did select to have on the table for my family meal was quite successful and as a result worth sharing.

Close de la Roilette, Cuvée Tardive 2011 Fleurie

The review for the Clos de la Roilette, Cuvée Tardive 2011Fleurie from Jancis Robinson made the rounds late in October and I was curious. With so much love showered on this wine, "I'm in love" and "Yum, yum, yum" as just two examples, I figured I had little if anything to lose on a couple bottles. I found them for around $35 with shipping from Flat Iron Wines in New York, and got ahead of the season and had my wine in hand two weeks before the holiday.  Flat Iron is only stocking magnums of the 2011 right now, but after tasting this wine I can't see why that would be a losing proposition either!

Beaujolais for Thanksgiving, how stereotypical for me! Yes, it did work out that way. I felt this wine would make for a pleasant drinking experience for Margot and I in that setting. I don't always expect those I share wine with to say anything at all about a particular bottle so bringing something for me to pay attention to makes plenty of sense. This wine is precisely dry and focused. The ripe fruit aromas and flavors don't feel forced and come off full, yet fresh. There is a particular minerality to this wine, and I also felt a bit of spice or herb in the finish was not standard/everyday Beaujolais. It was easy drinking, smooth and had a gentle tannic bite in the finish.

With the onslaught of holiday table flavors this wine did admirably, pairing best with a squash and mushroom tart that also had melted cheese on top. The flavor combination in that dish matched the fruit/earth combo in the wine better than everything else. Margot loved this wine and I'd recommend it highly to others. Don't buy all the magnums from Flat Iron before I get to order some though!

Wiemer Late Harvest Riesling

For dessert, which was apple or squash pie of course, I paired the Hermann J. Wiemer Select Late Harvest Riesling dessert wine. We've had this wine several times and the massive flavors of sweet fruits and tart citrus go great with dessert. All the glasses were promptly emptied.



Monday, November 26, 2012

My Half Full Glass - November 22nd, 2012

Fine wines and also an extensive spirits inventory.

Cave B Tempranillo

A friend passed this bottle of Cave B Tempranillo along to me after a trip to see the Dave Matthew's Band in Oregon earlier in the year. I hadn't come across this label on my recent Oregon wine trip or the research that preceded it.

I couldn't come up with anything hugely notable to say about this wine, but it was well made, focused and has decent flavors so I drank it happily. It is lively and straightforward, likely a good match with charcuterie and cheese.

Tasting  - Wine For Dudes 2 sent me the "Wines for Dudes 2 " sampler curated by Gary Vaynerchuk. I'm not a Gary Vee fan, I'm not opposed to him either, I just came a bit late to the wine blogger party and missed his early online exploits. Assuming he had a good deal of play in selecting the wines in the sampler I was excited to see what his tastes might offer my own.

Looking at the lineup (above) I immediately thought that the party is in the first three bottles. A rosé from Syrah, a lightly oaked Cali Chard and a Rhone-style red blend that was described to be light. I can see these three wines being a killer trifecta for a cocktail party, summer BBQ or even a more formal dinner party. So how did they work for me?

The Bugay '10 "Long Stem Rosé" Syrah from Sonoma was surprisingly floral. Wine for a dude? Maybe a dude that was looking to get laid! No seriously, I like wines that are effective at grabbing ones attention and this wine is no slouch in that regard. It is light, fresh, mildly fruity, but the floral aspects are its main act. I could definitely drink this by the bottle. Maybe I will!

Next up was the Francis Coppola '09 "Director's Cut" Chardonnay, also from Sonoma. I've had some Coppola wines before, but I think just the reds so giving the Chard a spin was of keen interest. It's oakier than the tasting notes suggest, but not in a ruinous way. This wine would satisfy the "I only drink white" or "I only drink Chard" folks that wander through my house from time to time, and this wine is better than that magnum of plonky Chardonnay that I would expect them to drink on a regular basis. I'm fifty/fifty on this wine. The hit of baking spices in the finish is nice and drinking it in the early fall where I can relate to the pear and vanilla (aromas AND flavors) coming through also made sense.

The third wine in the first half of the sampler is the Twisted Oak '09 "*%#&@!" Red Blend, a blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache, and the nose immediately made me think of the Rhone reds I enjoyed in France in 2011. The mélange of fruit, funk and oak is a place of action for me. It signals something interesting ahead, and this wine doesn't disappoint. It's not a big wine, and for that I am grateful. It has just enough body and nuance to make it worth drinking, but not so much that casual drinkers will be turned off by it. Finding interesting dry red party wines is a crap shoot and this happily goes on the list!

The second half of the sampler feels like a different party to me. With two Zins and a Cab I'd have to be selective with the guest list or send the riff raff home (you are sensing the sarcasm and snark, right?) before I broke these out! I have a mix of beverage loving friends and my experience tells me that many of them who are not specifically interested in wine wouldn't dig a good Zin or Cab, and that is OK by me. Pushing them out of their comfort zone is unfair so I'd be more apt to share the next three wines with friends who were more used to exploring the world of wine with open senses and opinions.

The first Zin is the Easton '06 from the Shenandoah Valley in California. I'm pretty confident that this is my first Shenandoah Valley wine, and I even had to look up where in the California it actually was! There is a certain rusticity in the mouth on this wine. A bit woody, peppery with some dry soil in fact. This is a drier more restrained Zin and one I might easily pair with some slow cooked venison on a late Fall day.

OK, so the second Zin is going to be different? How do I know? The deeper color, so much purple, tells me that there is going to be more concentration. Will it be jammy and fruity? I bet it will! This is the Jake-Ryan Cellars '07 Zinfandel from Mt Veeder in California. Lots of plum and chocolate in this little filly! This is the one wine from this group that I could expect to stand up to the actual barbeque, say pulled pork with a moderately spicy sauce. That is something I do for my friends once or twice a year and when I can pull out a wine (homemade beer and BBQ is a staple) that can pair well with it I have a chorus of happy party goers in front of me!

End of the line now. We finish with the Feather '07 Cab from the Columbia Valley in Washington State. The tasting notes say CA, but we all know that ain't right! This is the wine I am savoring after everyone has gone home and the party cleanup is done. Mellow and warm this wine helps the transition from party host to exhausted person on the couch. It's a pretty wine with all the Cab attributes you'd expect, but from a place where Cab doesn't get super huge and obtrusive. This wine would be one that would emerge from your cellar in time and still not disappoint.



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.”

My Half Full Glass - November 15th, 2012

A new weekly column. The first one posted way beyond the initial self-imposed deadline. Who knows that the hell this means!

Italian Wines from Zonin

The folks at Zonin shared several selections of their collection with me and I recently took a white and a red for a test drive. On its own the red paired best with the simple pasta & sauce I was eating, but overall both wines performed acceptably the night I opened them.

The Rocca di MonteMassi Le Focaie Maremma Toscana 2012 is a bright, assertively tart red wine that is would be best when paired with light Italian fare or even a cheese plate. The acidity is cleansing keeping the wine focused and sharp. With cheese the wine expressed savory herbal notes that were quite pleasing.

The Principi di Butera Insolia Sicilia 2011 is a straightforward dry, white wine with a slight salinity to it. This wine was not a match for red sauce, trending better with cheese. The salinity might make this a good match with shellfish, which I did not try.

Peconic Bay Hard Cider

I've haven't met (yet) the people at Peconic Bay Winery and Empire State Cellars, but I do know that they are doing a fantastic job representing and promoting wines made in New York State. During a chat with James Silver, General Manager at Peconic Bay Winery, he asked if I was interested in cider. Those were words I have heard before, and thankfully I have always said yes! As a result I was lucky enough try the two styles of Long Island hard cider Peconic Bay Winery is currently producing.  Cider doesn't resonate with everyone and one of the revelations I have had about what makes a cider more likely to please is that the clarity matters. In this case clarity is both visual and on the palate; a finesse if you will.

Both of the Peconic Bay ciders have that finesse. The True Companion was the first one I tried and it immediately reminded of another cider made in a similar style that  I've really enjoyed, The Saint by Crispin Cider. True Companion is made with a five apple blend and also has orange zest, ginger and molasses added. The cider pours an amber color and comes off spicy and sweet making for a killer drink on its own. Paired with cheese this cider owned the tasting. Like The Saint from Crispin, this cider is fruity, spicy, a bit yeasty with a sweet finish. This complexity when it is well polished makes for exceptional drinking.

True Believer is a drier cider made with the same apple blend as True Companion minus the spice/sugar additions. This cider is lighter in color with a much more apple focused nose. True Believer's asset is how smooth it is. Tart apple is all over the place, there is a stripe of acidity, but the finish is just a hint sweet and round. This cider tastes more like an heirloom or cider-type apple drink more than the dessert apple blend it is made from might suggest. A very nice surprise.

Both ciders would be good on their own, with cheeses & snacks or with white meat-based main dishes.



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.”

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Walk in the Woods - Gnarly Old Wood

Walking out in the forest is something I do on every trip I take to Vermont. The best weather days really are the optimal experience, but in the Fall sometimes I get a gray, cool day shares that its magic with me all the same.

The road we most often walk feels like nowhere.

The area with the best views doesn't really shine on a day like this.

But that view isn't the only reason to walk that road. With your senses peeled you are bound to find plenty of other things to catch your attention. This time it was some of the gnarly old wood I spotted along the road.