Articles in Drinking

Suddenly, Grenache grown in California is coming back into favor. Credit: Copyright 2013 Tablas Creek Vineyard

Grenache is in the midst of a renaissance in California, proving that decades of abuse can’t keep a great wine grape down. Two decades ago, it was being pulled out of California vineyards at an alarming rate. An increasingly sophisticated American wine-drinking public was giving up the simple, fruity jug wines into which most California Grenache had gone in favor of darker, more robust red grapes. Between 1994 and 2004, Grenache acreage declined from 12,107 to 7,762, and to 5,909 in 2014.

A tale of two Grenaches

Once in decline, Grenache is back in production and receiving much buzz. Credit: Copyright Bob Dickey

Once in decline, Grenache is back in production and receiving much buzz. Credit: Copyright Bob Dickey

At the same time, Grenache has never received so much buzz. Writers with such diverse tastes as Wine Spectator’s James Laube (“Grenache … is proving to be one of the most exciting and enticing wines to emerge in California in the past decade, capable of stardom”) and the San Francisco Chronicle’s Jon Bonné (“The hopes for Grenache ascendent have come to pass”) have championed the grape in recent years. And wineries are betting on Grenache’s future. A search in Wine Spectator’s California ratings database for Grenache from the 1994 vintage returns 11 matches, just two of which were red wines labeled Grenache (an additional three were Grenache rosés, and the other six blends that included the grape). By 2004, the same search returns 30 matches, 13 of which were labeled Grenache. From 2012 (the most recent vintage for which most reds have been submitted for review), the search returns 130 matches, 45 of which were labeled Grenache.

Both the decline and the renaissance can be understood by looking at where Grenache was and is being planted. In 1994, just 256 acres, less than 2 percent of the total, was found in the coastal or mountain counties that make California’s best wines. The rest was found in the deep, fertile soils of the Central Valley, where it was a key component of the field blends that went unacknowledged into jug wines (think “Hearty Burgundy” and the like). As those wines lost popularity in the American market, so too did the demand for the simple, fruity juice that Grenache produced in its Central Valley home.

But all locations are not the same for California Grenache. Over the same two decades that overall acreage has declined by more than half, the acreage in the high-quality coastal and mountain areas increased 437 percent, to 1,376 acres. Even so, in premium areas, Grenache has become downright scarce, even though it is productive and easy to grow. In the Central Coast, Grenache is now one of the most in-demand grapes and commands a premium price, averaging $1,797 per ton in 2014, higher than Merlot ($1,056 a ton), Syrah ($1,357 a ton), Zinfandel ($1,407 a ton) and even Cabernet Sauvignon ($1,464 a ton).

The world’s grape

Chateau de Beaucastel, in the south of France, is known for its grenaches. Credit: Copyright 2010 Chateau de Beaucastel

Grenache is grown at Chateau de Beaucastel, in France’s Rhone Valley, known for the wine. Credit: Copyright 2010 Chateau de Beaucastel

Grenache is long overdue for its California renaissance. Widely planted in France, Spain and Australia, Grenache is the world’s second-most-planted grape by acreage. It makes up some 60 percent of the acreage in the Rhone Valley and 70 percent of the acreage in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Add in significant plantings in Spain and Australia, as well as the thousands of acres in California, and Grenache accounts for the second-greatest worldwide acreage of any wine grape.

It is little surprise why. Grenache is a vigorous grape, relatively easy to grow and productive. It produces fruit with both good sugars (producing full body) and good acids (maintaining freshness). It makes wines that are nearly always cheerful, full of fruit and refreshing. There’s a useful white-skinned variant (Grenache Blanc) and even a pink-skinned one (Grenache Gris).

Whether in a Cotes-du-Rhone or a Rioja, an Australian GSM or a Provence rosé, wines based on Grenache provide enormous pleasure for a typically reasonable price.

So what happened in California?

The bad old days

Tablas Creek is once again nurturing vines for Grenache. Credit: Copyright 2002 Tablas Creek Vineyard

Tablas Creek is once again nurturing vines for Grenache. Credit: Copyright 2002 Tablas Creek Vineyard

 Grenache in California has had a checkered history. Largely planted in the Central Valley and irrigated extensively because of its ability to produce enormous crops when given enough water, Grenache formed the (unacknowledged) core of many of the jug wines in the 1960s and 1970s. I’ve heard tales of Grenache producing as much as 20 tons per acre in parts of the Central Valley. Even as recently as 2012, California’s Grape Crush Pricing District 13 (including Fresno, Madera and Tulare Counties, which contains most of the Central Valley Grenache acreage) produced 50,029 tons of fruit from 3,640 acres of Grenache: an average of 13.7 tons per acre. For comparison, our highest-ever yield per acre from our vineyard was 3.6 tons per acre, in 2006.

As you might expect, grapes produced at those massive yields are rarely distinguished. And in the rare cases where it was bottled on its own in the 1960s and 1970s, “California Grenache” was simple, light in color, and often sweet. The grape had fallen decisively out of favor by the 1980s, when a new generation of producers, mostly in Napa, focused their attention, and the attention of the American market, on the classic grapes of Bordeaux. Acreage in California declined correspondingly, from a peak near 20,000 acres in the 1980s to 11,000 acres in 2000 and just 5,909 acres today.

And yet, in the reasons for Grenache’s decline lie the seeds of its rebirth.

Why now, for Grenache?

The American wine market's openness to new varieties has helped bring grenache back. Credit: Copyright Cheryl Quist

The American wine market’s openness to new varieties has helped bring Grenache back. Credit: Copyright Cheryl Quist

Several factors are driving a new interest in Grenache. First, the whole category of Rhone varieties has a new generation of devotees, both among consumers and among producers. American producers, inspired by the growing availability of high-quality examples from the Rhone Valley and convinced that California’s Mediterranean climate should be a congenial one for the Rhone’s Mediterranean grapes, started making wine in increasing numbers through the 1990s. With critical mass came organizations like Rhone Rangers, Hospice du Rhone and the Grenache Association, all dedicated to providing Rhone lovers a community in which to discover new favorites.

The American wine market’s increasing openness to new varieties, and the growth of the tasting room culture, allowed many of these maverick producers to connect with enthusiastic customers in a way that would have been inconceivable two decades ago. Blends, too, have become a hot category in recent years, and it’s hard to think of a grape that has benefited more than Grenache, whose combination of full body, generous fruit, moderate tannins and refreshing acidity make it an exemplary blending partner.

Grenache can be made in many styles, from robust and high-octane to ethereal and highly spiced, which allows it to appeal to both winemakers looking to make wines to impress with their hedonistic appeal, and those looking to make wines that are more ethereal and intellectual.

And yet, it’s likely that none of this would have happened without new clones.

Clones to the rescue

At Tablas Creek, clones from France were brought in as the vineyard started growing grapes for Grenache. Credit: Copyright 2002 Tablas Creek Vineyard

At Tablas Creek, clones from France were brought in as the vineyard started growing grapes for Grenache. Credit: Copyright 2002 Tablas Creek Vineyard

At Tablas Creek, we brought in clones of all our grapes from our partners at Beaucastel, and Grenache was a major reason why we decided to go through the considerable time and expense of doing so. When we started to research the available clones of Grenache in California, we were not excited by what we found: enormous clusters with massive berries, much larger than we were used to seeing at Beaucastel, with flavors that were fruity and friendly enough but not exciting. Sure, some of that could be attributed to being overirrigated, overcropped and planted in the wrong places, but we thought there was something inherently different about the raw material. It was this conclusion that cemented our decision to bring in our own clones from France rather than make the best of the clones that were available here.

We weren’t the only people to bring in new clones of Grenache, but the net effect of the arrival of new clones in the mid-1990s was dramatic. A new generation of producers started planting Grenache in the high-quality coastal and mountain appellations where its previous footprint had been negligible. Acreage statistics at the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that in coastal and foothills counties its acreage has grown at about 10 percent per year since 1995. The 1,000-plus acres of new plantings in high-quality areas has driven a critical resurgence for Grenache.

Celebrating Grenache’s present

Organizations such as Rhone Rangers are championing Grenache. Credit: Copyright Bob Dickey

Organizations such as Rhone Rangers are championing Grenache. Credit: Copyright Bob Dickey

How about the Rhone Rangers? This organization of some 120 wineries, mostly from California but also including producers of Grenache and other Rhone-style grapes from Washington, Oregon, Virginia, Arizona and Michigan, holds two big events each year, in San Francisco (late spring) and in Los Angeles (Nov. 6-7). It also oversees local chapters in Paso Robles, El Dorado, California North Coast, Santa Barbara, and Virginia, and has organized a traveling show that has taken Grenache and its brethren in recent years to Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York and Seattle. For information, visit Rhone Rangers.

Hospice du Rhone has celebrated producers working with Rhone varieties with a four-day blowout of seminars, tastings, lunches, dinners, an auction and a legendary collection of after-hours parties most years since 1991. The 2016 celebration will be held in Paso Robles on April 14-16. For more, visit Hospice du Rhone. 

The wines of France’s Rhone Valley are predominantly Grenache, from humble Cotes du Rhones to the greatest Chateauneuf du Papes. This is also true of most southern French rosés. These are all promoted by Inter-Rhone. For a complete listing of their events and activities, visit Inter-Rhone’s website. 

Grenache even has an international day, organized by the Grenache Association each year on the third Friday in September (this year, it was Sept. 18) with tastings organized in Rhone-producing regions from France to Australia to South Africa to California.

A bright future for Grenache

A tasting in California of Rhone varieties had a heavy focus on Grenache wines. Credit: Copyright 2014 Jason Haas

A tasting in California of Rhone varieties had a heavy focus on Grenache wines. Credit: Copyright 2014 Jason Haas

What’s next for Grenache here in America? It seems like it’s poised for a surge, for many reasons. Quality has never been better. In California, the grape is increasingly being planted in the right places, and just as important being pulled out of the wrong places. The clones that are available are better than they’ve ever been before. In general, the producers who are working with Grenache now are Rhone specialists, which suggests it’s in the hands of people who will know what to do with it, unlike, say, Syrah, which was planted speculatively in lots of the wrong locations by growers who were guessing at what California’s next big grape would be. (Syrah is only now recovering after years in the wilderness.)

In the vineyard, Grenache is particularly well suited to dry-farming, ever more important in a future where droughts are likely to become more frequent and more severe. And it has shown around the world it can thrive in many different soils, in a range of moderate to warm climates, and be made, according to a winemaker’s taste, in a variety of styles, from bright and spicy to deeply fruity and luscious.

The wine press and trade seems solidly behind Grenache right now; nearly every writer I’ve spoken with in the last few years has remarked on how they think Grenache is poised for greatness in America. And the market seems increasingly comfortable with blends, where Grenache shines.

Will Grenache be the next big thing in California? I’m not sure I would wish that on it. But will it see success over the coming decades? I think that’s an easy prediction.

Main photo: Suddenly, Grenache grown in California is coming back into favor. Credit: Copyright 2013 Tablas Creek Vineyard

Read More
Craft brewers are turning to herbs and spices as they look to add exotic ingredients to beers. Credit: Courtesy Deschutes Brewery

Craft brewers increasingly are like chefs. They’re sprinkling herbs and spices into their beers much like a chef who wants to complement a dish. The upshot: Brewers have food in mind when selecting herbs and spices to use, ranging from basil and sage to cardamom and the world’s most expensive spice, saffron.

“The use of spices helps us design beers that are great for pairing with food, as well as just dang tasty,” says Tim Hawn, brewmaster at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Inc. in Milton, Delaware.

At the annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver in September, the herb and spice category was the seventh most popular. It attracted 142 beers, behind the 149 in the coffee beer category.

What’s the trick to using herbs and spices in craft beers? “Try not to overdo it,” brewer Kevin Haborak, co-owner of Coastal Empire Beer Co. in Savannah, Georgia, advises. “I always start light because you can add more. And you can’t take it back out.”

With fall temperatures cooling, now is a great time to add some herbs and spices to your beer drinking. Below are 13 herb and spice beers worth trying.

Allergeez

Panther Island Brewing uses rose hips and chamomile flowers in its Allergeez beer. Credit: Pixaby 2015 Pixaby 2015 IamColorBlind

Panther Island Brewing uses rose hips and chamomile flowers in its Allergeez beer. Credit: Pixaby 2015 IamColorBlind

Allergeez (ABV: 5.7%), an American wheat beer that won a silver medal at this year’s Great American Beer Festival (GABF), includes Texas honey, chamomile flowers and rose hips. “Rose hips help with a nice and subtle cranberry tart flavor while the chamomile gives a big floral nose,” says Ryan McWhorter, founder of Panther Island Brewing, in Fort Worth, Texas.

McWhorter, the head brewer, says Allergeez came about because he had a recipe for an American Wheat Beer — but wanted to add something. His wife brewed him a chamomile flower tea and added honey. “I thought it was delicious and decided to give that a try in the wheat recipe,” McWhorter says. Rose hips were later added.

Zarabanda

Chef José Andrés, left, and Deschutes founder Gary Fish created a beer with lemon verbena and pink peppercorn. Credit: Courtesy Deschutes Brewery

Chef José Andrés, left, and Deschutes founder Gary Fish created a beer with lemon verbena and pink peppercorn. Credit: Courtesy Deschutes Brewery

Zarabanda (ABV: 6.3%) is a Spanish take on the farmhouse-style Saison. Deschutes Brewery, based in Bend, Oregon, crafted the beer in collaboration with famed Spanish chef José Andrés. This brew includes two ingredients Andrés likes to use in his cooking — lemon verbena and pink peppercorn — as well as dried lime and sumac.

Deschutes founder Gary Fish and Andrés began discussing the idea of collaborating on a beer “many years ago,” according to Fish. Zarabanda was introduced last year. Deschutes said the name was inspired by the Spanish saraband dance which, “loosely translated, means popular fun or enjoyment; hubbub; racket; row; party.”

Chai Milk Stout

Adam Draeger, head brewer at Yak & Yeti, created a Chai Milk Stout. Credit: Copyright 2012 Erin Draeger

Adam Draeger, head brewer at Yak & Yeti, created a Chai Milk Stout. Credit: Copyright 2012 Erin Draeger

Yak & Yeti Restaurant & Brewpub’s Chai Milk Stout (5.2% ABV) was a 2013 GABF silver medalist. The chai spices are Yak & Yeti’s proprietary blend. Adam Draeger, head brewer at Yak & Yeti, which operates a brewpub and two restaurants in the Denver area, says the blend uses spices typically used in Nepali spiced tea: whole cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon.

Chai Milk Stout is a riff on Yak & Yeti’s Milk Stout. “You usually add milk to your chai tea,” Draeger says. He is tight-lipped about the beer’s chai spice blend: “The only bit of info I’ll give you on the spices is that they are mixed and then finely ground and not left cracked or whole.”

Midas Touch

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery adds saffron to the mix. Credit: Courtesy Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery adds saffron to the mix. Credit: Courtesy Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

Midas Touch (ABV: 9.0%), by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Inc., is made with ingredients found in the 2,700-year-old drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas in central Turkey. The world’s most expensive spice, saffron, gets a starring role. “Saffron is perceived to add a bit of floral sweetness to the beer,” says Tim Hawn, brewmaster at the Milton, Delaware, brewery. He adds that saffron is “known to bring flavors together – in this case the grapes and honey from the base fermentable materials.”

The brewery calls its Midas Touch beer “somewhere between beer, wine and mead.” Dogfish Head, in general, uses many spices in its beers. “What we love about spices is the endless creativity they offer,” Hawn says. “Historically they have been used in the culinary world, but they can also play into beer flavors.”

Heather Ale

Cambridge Brewing's mix of herbs sit on the "brewdeck." Credit: Courtesy Cambridge Brewing Co.

Cambridge Brewing’s mix of herbs sit on the “brewdeck.” Credit: Courtesy Cambridge Brewing Co.

Cambridge Brewing Co.’s Heather Ale (5.0% ABV) snagged a silver medal at the 2012 GABF and a bronze in 2011. Each summer the Cambridge brewery crew picks heather flowers along the Massachusetts coast. “It’s really just a beautiful floral character in terms of flavor and aroma,” brewmaster Will Meyers says of the heather, noting the beer is “all about the heather.” It includes sweet gale, lavender and yarrow.

Heather Ale has roots in Europe and Scandinavia. The brewery says inhabitants of coastal Northern Europe, Scandinavia and the Northern British Isles originally crafted similar beers, adding that “fresh heather flowers and other herbs were used to balance and flavor the rustic yet sweet toasted character of the malted barley.”

Harvest Pumpkin Ale

Boston Beer uses spices found in pumpkin pie for its Harvest Pumpkin Ale. Credit: Courtesy Boston Beer Co.

Boston Beer uses spices found in pumpkin pie for its Harvest Pumpkin Ale. Credit: Courtesy Boston Beer Co.

The spices typically featured in pumpkin pie are featured in Boston Beer Co.’s Harvest Pumpkin Ale (5.7% ABV): cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice. To top it off, the brewery tosses “real pumpkin” into the mix.

The brewery says its Harvest Pumpkin Ale is a modern adaption of a traditional New England pumpkin ale. “Lacking the ability to produce barley, early colonists brewed with pumpkin,” Boston Beer adds, noting the beer delivers “a smooth, rich flavor and unmistakable malty character.”

Utah Sage Saison

Epic Brewing uses sage, rosemary and thyme, steeping them in the wort kettle. Credit: Courtesy Epic Brewing Co.

Epic Brewing uses sage, rosemary and thyme, steeping them in the wort kettle. Credit: Courtesy Epic Brewing Co.

“We wanted to make something that expressed Utah and the high desert. Sage turned out to be the perfect ingredient, but it needed to be rounded out so we added thyme and rosemary,” Matthew Allred, communications director for Salt Lake City-based Epic Brewing, says of his company’s Utah Sage Saison (7.6% ABV). The Belgian-style ale captured a bronze at the 2012 GABF.

Epic uses fresh whole sage, rosemary and thyme for its Utah Sage Saison and steeps them in the wort kettle. “They have a huge impact on the nose, creating a very floral, savory aroma. This is an amazing beer with roast chicken, lamb or other fall seasonal dishes,” Allred says.

Royal Tea Chai Porter

At The Brewer’s Cabinet, a custom chai spice blend is inspected after drying. Credit: Courtesy The Brewer’s Cabinet

At The Brewer’s Cabinet, a custom chai spice blend is inspected after drying. Credit: Courtesy The Brewer’s Cabinet

Charlie Johnson, head brewer for The Brewer’s Cabinet in Reno, Nevada, says the brewery’s Royal Tea Chai Porter (5.4% ABV) was inspired by a dirty chai latte he enjoyed at a local coffee shop and “my love of Indian cuisine.” And the taste: “It’s basically like a spiced chai latte,” Johnson says of the porter.

The brewery uses a house chai spice blend, saying the beer has “a chocolate/roast backbone. The lactose balances the spice notes with a small amount of sweetness and a velvety feel.” Johnson adds: “I’d like to think our beer is made to be paired with food — or replace it as a course.”

Aloha Piña

5 Stones Artisan Brewery's Aloha Piña uses jalapeños and pineapple. Credit: Courtesy 5 Stones Artisan Brewery

5 Stones Artisan Brewery’s Aloha Piña uses jalapeños and pineapple. Credit: Courtesy 5 Stones Artisan Brewery

A “Hawaiian fire” pizza topped with pineapple and jalapeño pepper inspired 5 Stones Artisan Brewery’s Aloha Piña (6.4% ABV). The beer won a silver medal at last year’s GABF in the Herb and Spice Beer Category. (This year, GABF added a Chili Beer category.) The Cibolo, Texas, brewery calls its Aloha Piña an American Golden Ale. The beer is flavored with roasted jalapeño as well as “massive amounts of fresh cut pineapple,” Amarillo hops, and honey.

Dawn Patrol Imperial Molé Stout

Coastal Empire's Dawn Patrol Imperial Molé Stout, with its mix of spices, aims to achieve a Mexican mole sauce flavor profile. Credit: Courtesy Coastal Empire Beer Co.

Coastal Empire’s Dawn Patrol Imperial Molé Stout, with its mix of spices, aims to achieve a Mexican mole sauce flavor profile. Credit: Courtesy Coastal Empire Beer Co.

Coastal Empire Beer Co.’s Dawn Patrol Imperial Molé Stout (10% ABV) — a 2014 GABF bronze medal winner — is a seasonal stout aged four weeks on coffee, raisins, ancho and serrano peppers, cumin, nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon. The aim: achieve a background flavor profile similar to a Mexican mole sauce.

Chris Haborak, co-owner of the Savannah, Georgia, brewery, says the addition of the spices seemed like a good match with the other ingredients. “We figured the spices would pair well with the chocolate backbone of the Imperial Stout.”

Basil Ryeman

 At Tennessee Brew Works, brewers work with local farmers to source their herbs. Credit: Courtesy Tennessee Brew Works

At Tennessee Brew Works, brewers work with local farmers to source their herbs. Credit: Courtesy Tennessee Brew Works

Tennessee Brew Works’ Basil Ryeman (6.25% ABV) combines a Saison-style beer — also known as a classic Belgian Farmhouse Ale — with Thai basil. “We love the anise, fennel and spicy characteristics of Thai basil and the interplay of these flavors with the Belgian Saison yeast,” head brewer Laura Burns says. The Nashville brewery works closely with local farmers to source its herbs.

Burns says the brewery’s Thai basil and rosemary-infused beers are intended to be “very palatable and well suited” for pairing with food. “We use herbs to add distinct flavors that interplay with traditional brewing ingredients,” she notes. “But this also allows our beers to accentuate and help make dishes pop much like an herb does.”

Local Honey

 Woods Beer uses yarrow, eucalyptus and lavender for its Local Honey beer. Credit: Courtesy Woods Beer Co.

Woods Beer uses yarrow, eucalyptus and lavender for its Local Honey beer. Credit: Courtesy Woods Beer Co.

Woods Beer Co.’s Local Honey (6% ABV) combines an American Pale Ale with Bay Area honey and flavors that attract bees: yarrow, eucalyptus and lavender. The Oakland, California, beer is available year-round on tap.

The base beer for Local Honey is an unhopped Pale Ale. The first batch relied on uber-local ingredients. “The herbs and honey were originally locally foraged, by me, from my neighborhood and my own beehives,” brewer William Bostwick, the creator of Local Honey, says. “But now that we brew it on a regular basis and on a larger scale, we can’t pick enough! So we buy our herbs commercially.”

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Ale

Oatmeal cookies and beer? It goes well at Aftershock Brewing, which created Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Ale. Credit: Copyright 2013 Christian Wicklein

Oatmeal cookies and beer? It goes well at Aftershock Brewing, which created Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Ale. Credit: Copyright 2013 Christian Wicklein

“We wanted the taste and aroma to remind you of oatmeal raisin cookies,” Rebecca Batz, Aftershock Brewing’s tasting room manager, says of the Temecula, California, brewery’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Ale (5.5% ABV). “O.R.C.A.” won a bronze at this year’s GABF. The beer initially was intended to be a winter seasonal brew. It became a year-round offering thanks to popular demand.

Owner and brewmaster Marvin Nigh bases the ale on his wife’s oatmeal raisin cookie recipe. (His wife, Karen, is co-owner.) The beer includes oats, raisins and cinnamon. “Most people automatically assume this is a stout. It is not,” Batz says. “It’s just a cookie in the form of a beer.”

Main photo: Craft brewers are turning to herbs and spices as they look to add exotic ingredients to beers. Credit: Courtesy Deschutes Brewery

 

Read More
The López de Heredia winery in Rioja, Spain. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

On a late summer’s weekend in Haro, in the heart of Rioja, northern Spain, a remarkable event took place. La Cata del Barrio de la Estación was an uncommon show of solidarity among seven of Rioja’s leading wineries. The point of the weekend was not simply for the bodegas to show their wines in a spectacular series of tastings (“cata” means wine tasting), but also to shine a spotlight on the famed Barrio de la Estación, the historic area surrounding the town’s railway station where some of the region’s top wineries are clustered.

The idea was dreamed up by British Master of Wine Tim Atkin together with Guillermo de Aranzábal, president of La Rioja Alta, one of the oldest (established in 1890) and most esteemed wineries, and head of the association designed to develop tourism in the famed station area. De Aranzábal approached his fellow winemakers, who jumped at the idea. Within a year of the initial informal discussions, the fully fledged project was in place.

The event opened with cava and selected wines served in the impressive cellars of Bodegas Roda, flanked by massive oak casks, one of the defining features of Rioja. Afterward, some of Rioja’s finest wines were showcased at the gala dinner prepared by Michelin-starred chef and local hero Francis Paniego, as well as at the professional tasting staged at Bodegas Bilbainas the following day. Over the course of the weekend, all seven wineries opened their doors and cellars to the public. In brilliant September sunshine, some 5,000 people wandered from winery to winery (all are within walking distance of one another), glass in hand, eager to sample this extraordinary lineup of Rioja wines. The weekend was declared a resounding success by all concerned — the wineries, the local tourist authorities and the general public — and there are rumors (and hopes) that it may become an annual event.

Wines shown at the professional tasting ranged in age from 1981 to 2013, while those tasted in-house were of the latest vintage to be offered on sale. Below is a selection presented by the seven participating estates. Rioja of this quality is widely exported. Check wine-searcher for your nearest supplier.

Bodegas Bilbainas, Viña Pomal Gran Reserva

Viña Pomal Gran Reserva from Bodegas Bilbainas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Viña Pomal Gran Reserva from Bodegas Bilbainas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Bodegas Bilbainas was founded in 1901 and occupies pride of place right beside Haro station. In 1997 the estate was acquired by the Catalan-based Codorniú group, which has invested handsomely in both hardware and oenological expertise. Viña Pomal is its signature brand, made principally from Tempranillo with a little added Graciano for color and aging potential. Gran Reservas are aged at least two years in American oak, a further year in oak casks and three more years in bottle. Garnet-red tinged with russet, richly perfumed, supple and elegant, this is a wine to have and to hold.

López de Heredia, Viña Tondonia Reserva

Vina Tondonia Reserva from López de Heredia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Vina Tondonia Reserva from López de Heredia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

López de Heredia, just across the tracks from Bodegas Bilbainas, is the station’s oldest winery, established 1877. They make classic, traditional-style Rioja presented in bottles clad in the characteristic gold wire netting that was originally designed to prevent tampering and fraud, now purely decorative. Viña Tondonia is its 100-hectare (250-acre) vineyard, planted in 1914 and responsible for impressive, deep golden white wines, significant reds and some rosé. Red Reservas blend Tempranillo with Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo and are aged six years in American oak. They are vibrant in color, supple and beautifully textured with good acidity and firm tannins auguring long life.

La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904

Gran Reserva 904 from La Rioja Alta. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Gran Reserva 904 from La Rioja Alta. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

La Rioja Alta, founded at Haro station in 1890 by five families from Rioja and the Basque Country, is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. Another classic bodega making touchstone Rioja, it is responsible for a range of impressive red wines (no white) destined for long aging. Gran Reserva 904 (Tempranillo and a little Graciano) is fermented in stainless steel and aged four years in small, used barriques, made in-house by the firm’s own cooper from imported, all-American oak staves. With its cherry-red color,  intense bouquet and jammy fruit, it’s smooth and powerful — a wine for fall, perfect with lamb braised in red wine or a rich mushroom risotto liberally seasoned with black pepper.

CVNE, Contino Reserva

Contino Reserva from CVNE. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Contino Reserva from CVNE. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

CVNE, which stands for Compañia Vinícola del Norte de España (usually styled Cune for simplicity), was set up by the Real de Asúa family in 1879. It remains in family ownership, run today by the fifth generation, and is famous for dovetailing the best of ancient and modern Rioja. Contino comes from Tempranillo grapes (plus Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano) grown in a single 62-hectare (150-acre) vineyard situated just outside Haro. Fermented in stainless steel, the wine spends two years in used oak barrels (40 percent American, 60 percent French) and at least a year in bottle before release. Rich ruby and silky-smooth, it’s an intense mouthful of long-lasting pleasure.

Roda, Roda I Reserva

Roda I Reserva from Bodegas Roda. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Roda I Reserva from Bodegas Roda. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Roda is the new bodega on the block, arriving at Haro station in only 1987. What the estate lacks in antiquity it amply compensates for in terms of excellence, and it has made an immediate impact with its modern Rioja wines, made exclusively from own-grown, indigenous grapes (Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano) and given extensive oak aging in a purpose-built, temperature-controlled barrel room, which is carved straight from the rock face. Roda I, closed with a black capsule, is 100 percent Tempranillo, aged 16 months in French oak barriques and given another 20 months in bottle before release. Bright cherry with a lively fruit nose and rich, plummy depths, it’s a wine to curl up with in front of the fire.

Muga, Prado Enea Gran Reserva

Prado Enea Gran Reserva from Muga. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Prado Enea Gran Reserva from Muga. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Muga joined the other bodegas in the Barrio de la Estación in 1932 and makes super-classic Rioja characterized by long fermentations followed by extensive oak aging and long spells in bottle. Prado Enea, which comes from selected high-altitude plots, is an exemplary Gran Reserva that majors on Tempranillo with 20 percent Garnacha and a smidge of Graciano and Mazuelo and spends three years in oak (French and American) and three more in bottle. Deep ruby in color with a brambly nose (blackberries at end of summer), it has mellow spice flavors and enormous elegance and grace –- a  wine to cellar whatever the vintage (it’s not made every year), and to enjoy with favored, wine-loving friends.

Gómez Cruzado, Honorable

Honorable from Gómez Cruzado. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Honorable from Gómez Cruzado. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Gómez Cruzado was founded by exiled, Mexican-born aristocrat Don Angel Gómez de Arteche, who began making and bottling his own wines here in 1886 (a rarity at the time — most wines were sold in bulk). In 1916 the estate was acquired by a local nobleman, Don Jesús Gómez Cruzado, who gave it its present name. The smallest bodega in the Barrio, it has made giant strides in recent years under the supervision of consultant winemakers David González and Juan Antonio Leza. Honorable comes from one of the estate’s prime parcels of vines, many of them aged more than 50 years, mainly Tempranillo with the other three varieties present in small quantities. Black cherry jam hues with loads of ripe red fruit and good acidity to give it backbone, this is truly an honorable wine from an estate that’s moving up.

Main image: The López de Heredia winery in Rioja, Spain. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Read More
Dogfish Head Brewery makes this saison-style beer with Viognier grape must infected with a desirable fungus called botrytis that intensifies its sweetness. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Dogfish Head

There’s an old saying in the wine business: It takes a lot of beer to make great wine. The adage is especially appropriate this time of year, when harvest crews work overtime in the late-summer heat to bring in the new crop. But for an adventurous group of American craft brewers, it’s also true that it takes a lot of wine to make great beer.

No one knows that better than Vinnie Cilurzo, co-owner and brewmaster at Russian River Brewing Co. in Sonoma County, California. A decade ago, when he decided to make an American version of a Belgian lambic ale, he couldn’t resist putting a vinous spin on it. Lambic beers get their distinctive tartness from wild yeast and bacteria, and Cilurzo’s creation was no different in that respect. The twist came when he aged the beer in used Chardonnay barrels sourced from a local winery. The result was a sour beer called Temptation, and it was such a hit that Russian River added two more wine-barrel-aged sours to its lineup.

Today, craft brewers across the country are making wine-inspired beers using not only wine barrels and yeasts, but even wine grapes and juice.

One of the most interesting examples is Noble Rot, from Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery. “We worked with Alexandria Nicole Cellars winery in Prosser, Washington, and they helped us find all this amazing botrytis-infected Viognier grape must (unfermented juice),” said Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head founder and president. “The botrytis infection is kind of a benevolent fungus that really intensifies the complexity of the grapes. It’s a perfect mix between a Belgian saison, a beautiful white wine and a sour ale.”

Thirsty for more wine-inspired brews? Click on:

Main photo: Dogfish Head Brewery makes this saison-style beer with Viognier grape must infected with a desirable fungus called botrytis that intensifies its sweetness.  Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Dogfish Head 

Read More
Gin Cocktail with fresh lime and burnt orange peel at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

With fall approaching and colder months on the horizon, it’s time to switch from ice cold bottles of beer, glasses of crisp chardonnay, salt-rimmed margaritas and minty mojitos. On a recent trip to the Finger Lakes Region in upstate New York, James Ouderkirk, general manager at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge introduced me to a cocktail he thought perfect to celebrate the change of seasons: a gin cocktail flavored with apricot preserves and burnt orange peel.

Like many cities in the Northeast that prospered during the early part of the 20th century, Syracuse suffered when heavy industries declined in the 1970s. Now enjoying a resurgence, a revitalized downtown centered on Armory Square is home to new restaurants, bars and shops. One of those is Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge.

A trip back in time

The long bar at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The long bar at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The bar’s storefront has served many masters. Once a beauty school and then a cigar store, as Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge the space was transformed into the kind of bar my grandfather would have visited in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The walls are painted bordello red or built out of weathered bricks. Besides the front area, there are several rooms, one filled with overstuffed upholstered sofas and chairs. Another has a pool table. Yet another is filled with arcade style video machines.

With a large plate glass window facing South Clinton Street and a two-story-high ceiling, the main room is focused on a 35-foot wooden bar behind which the floor-to-ceiling shelves are filled with an encyclopedic collection of spirits curated locally and from around the world.

A custom cocktail to suit your mood

James Ouderkirk, General Manager at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

James Ouderkirk, General Manager at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Unlike many bars serving craft cocktails, Al’s does not have a cocktail menu. According to Ouderkirk, the philosophy of the bar is that patrons should describe how they are feeling and which spirits they enjoy, then the bartender will make a drink that will make them feel better.

On the night we met, I was tired. I very much needed a cocktail that would improve my mood. I wasn’t certain what I wanted to drink. I had one specific request: I wanted him to use a local product.

Discovering hard cider in the Finger Lakes

Oak barrels used to age hard apple cider into 2-year aged Apple Jack at Apple Country Spirits, Williamson, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Oak barrels used to age hard apple cider into 2-year aged Apple Jack at Apple Country Spirits, Williamson, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

For the past several days I had been traveling through the Finger Lakes region, visiting orchards that distilled their apples, pears, peaches and plums into spirits.

On the trip, I tasted hard apple ciders with an effervescence as light as champagne at Embark Craft Ciderworks in Williamson and at the Finger Lakes Cider House in Interlaken. At Apple Country Spirits, I sampled brandies made from apples, pears, peaches and plums as good as any eau-de-vie I enjoyed in France and Switzerland. The biggest news for me on the trip was the fact that in the region apples were being used to create premium vodkas and gins.

Local sourcing for gin and other spirits

Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards/1911 Distillery, LaFayette, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards/1911 Distillery, LaFayette, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Tree Vodka is produced from apples grown in the Apple Country Spirits orchards in Wayne County close to Lake Ontario. 1911 Vodka and 1911 Gin are produced from apples grown at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards in LaFayette. Different from vodka and gin flavored with apples, these distillations are mellow with a clean flavor.

Ouderkirk suggested he make a cocktail using 1911 Gin. With a portion of St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, a splash of soda water and a hint of freshly squeezed lime juice, he quickly mixed the drink. After he placed a piece of burnt orange peel on top, I gave it a taste. The cocktail had a light summer freshness. The aromatic gin anchored the flavors while the apricot preserves and burnt orange peel hinted at the fall.

To accompany the cocktail, Ouderkirk platted a selection of local cheeses and charcuterie. Sitting in the darkened room, sipping my cocktail, half listening to conversations at the bar and sampling Camembert, goat cheeses, cheddar and salami, I forgot entirely how tired I had been after my very long road trip.

1911 Gin, Apricot, Lime and Burnt Orange Peel Cocktail

As with all cocktails, the best and freshest ingredients will yield better results. Use a quality gin, apricot preserve and farmers market citrus.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 cocktail

Ingredients

1 3/4 ounce 1911 Gin (or a gin of your choice)

3/4 ounce St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur

Dash of freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon apricot preserve

Splash unflavored soda water

2-inch-by-1-inch orange peel, unblemished, washed

Directions

1. Mix together all the ingredients except the orange peel. Shake well with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass.

2. Hold the orange peel against the flame of a lighter or a gas stove burner until the peel lightly burns but does not blacken.

3. Place the burnt orange peel atop the cocktail and serve icy cold.

Main photo: Gin Cocktail with fresh lime and burnt orange peel at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Read More
The Rev. Nat West, right, an ordained minister, preaches the Gospel of good cider --

Three cheers for the nationwide revival of the all-but-lost American hard cider tradition! This renaissance is an outgrowth of spreading interest in locally sourced products and farm-to-table cuisine. Where there were perhaps a dozen artisanal hard cider makers in 2000, today there are 400, with new farm-to-bottle cideries opening every day.

These fermented apple and pear juice beverages are not all the same. In the Spanish tradition, the ciders have a slight vinegary flavor and lots of funky mushroomy, savory notes on the finish. English hard ciders are austere drinks that highlight the tannins from the apple skins with refreshing acidity. French-style hard ciders tend to be softer and a touch sweeter. Most hard ciders have a light spritz.

Tom Wark, a longtime wine industry publicist, launched “The Cider Journal” last year to track artisanal cideries and give vent to his passion for the movement. “These are complex, interesting drinks that are worlds away from the sweet, artificial tasting stuff I used to think was hard cider,” he says. “There is a growing band of dedicated craft cider producers across the country. Some have been at it for years, others not so long. But all of them are artisans.”

From the vast apple orchards of the Northwest to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, here is Zester’s look at some of our favorites.


Main photo: The Rev. Nat West, right, an ordained minister, preaches the gospel of good cider and is renowned for exploring the boundaries of cider making, starting from his basement and now flowing from 12 taps at his northeast Portland, Oregon, taproom. Credit: Copyright 2015 Zester Media

Read More
Grace Vineyard's Chairman's Reserve. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Grace Vineyard

Winemaker Judy Chan can still recall the initial challenges when her father, C.K. Chan, handed her the reins of Grace Vineyard.

A former human-resources analyst, Judy Chan faced not only tough competition from imported wines and the three giant Chinese labels — Dynasty, Great Wall and Changyu — but being new to the business, she didn’t know how to price, market or package the wine produced from the vineyard.

“The first bottle label looked like a soy sauce bottle,” she said of her early days in the business.

I was introduced to Grace Vineyard wines and Judy Chan three years ago in Hong Kong, where the young vintner is based. I returned home from a recent trip to Hong Kong with two bottles of Grace Vineyard’s wines with the intention of conducting an informal tasting of made-in-China Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay with California wines.

Putting Grace Vineyard wines to the test

The wine tasting included the 2010 Babcock Cabernet Sauvignon, left, and the 2011 Grace Vineyard Deep Blue. Credit: Copyright 2015 Mira Honeycutt

The wine tasting included the 2010 Babcock Cabernet Sauvignon, left, and the 2011 Grace Vineyard Deep Blue. Credit: Copyright 2015 Mira Honeycutt

I gathered together a few winemaker friends for a casual wine tasting, using brown bags to wrap the selected bottles: the 2011 Grace Vineyard Deep Blue (a Cabernet Sauvignon-driven wine with some Merlot) and the 2010 Babcock Cabernet Sauvignon from Santa Barbara County’s Happy Canyon, both in the $45 price range, as well as two Chardonnays in the $25 price range, Grace Vineyard’s 2011 Tasya’s Reserve and 2011 Saintsbury from Napa Valley’s Carneros district.

In evaluating appearance, aroma, texture, aftertaste and overall impression, Grace’s Deep Blue rated higher than the Babcock. In the white category, Saintsbury topped Grace’s Tasya’s Reserve.

For the group, it was an interesting introduction to the Chinese wine industry, which, although relatively new on the international wine map, is producing noteworthy wines.

Taking over the helm

Judy Chan. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Grace Vineyard

Judy Chan. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Grace Vineyard

Judy Chan departed from Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong in 2002, when her father asked her to take over a 296-acre vineyard in Shanxi, China, about 370 miles west of Beijing, and an additional 163-acre property in Ningxia, China, 865 miles west of Beijing.

At the time, she knew nothing about wine making, but her father was introduced to the fine wines as an international dealer, trading raw materials such as coal from Shanxi to France. “People associate Shanxi with coal and pollution, so he wanted to contribute environmentally,” Judy Chan said of her father’s decision to plant vineyards in 1997.

The senior Chan selected Shanxi’s Taigu County, known for deep, sandy loam soil. During summers, the warm days (about 95 F) are followed by cool nights when temperature drops to about 60. White grape varietals are harvested at the end of August, with the red grapes following in the middle of October. Winters in the region are harsh and challenging, so vines have to be buried in the ground, Judy Chan said.

A focus on quality over quantity

The vineyard in Shanxi, China. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Grace Vineyard

The vineyard in Shanxi, China. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Grace Vineyard

With Gerard Colin on board as the winemaker, initial plantings included Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chardonnay, vines imported from a nursery in Bordeaux, France. The first vintage in 2001 of 1 million bottles has grown to 1.5 million bottles annually. “It’s a decision we made,” Judy Chan said of the annual production figures. “I want to grow in quality not quantity.”

She said the current portfolio for Grace Vineyard includes 16 wines crafted by winemaker Ken Murchison. Varieties planted in Shanxi include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and the new additions of Marselan and Aglianico. In Ningxia, vineyards include the three Bordeaux varieties as well as Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir.

How are the flavor profiles different between the two regions?

The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are dramatically different, Judy Chan said. The Shanxi wines show black fruit character with hints of spice and pepper producing softer wines than those from Ningxia, which are bolder in character with red fruit flavors and higher in alcohol levels.

Identifying a market

The cellar at Grace Vineyard. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Grace Vineyard

The cellar at Grace Vineyard. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Grace Vineyard

Retail prices for Grace Vineyard’s wines range from $9 for the entry-level Vineyard series, a fruit-forward everyday wine, to $76 for the high-end Chairman’s Reserve, a complex Bordeaux-style blend aged in French oak. The cellar-worthy wine garnered an 85-point rating from wine guru Robert Parker. A newer label, the People’s series, serves as a mid-range wine targeted to the young crowd and marketed in Shanghai and Hong Kong’s hip restaurants and hotels.

This year, Grace is set to release some new wines — Shiraz, Aglianico and Marsalen — as well as a sparkling wine.

Grace has come a long way over the past decade, branding itself as a boutique family-run winery with success in local markets as well as export markets including Singapore, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Judy Chan said building a winery from scratch has been an invaluable experience.

“My dream is to build small wineries in different parts of China, each with its own identity,” she said.

Main photo: Grace Vineyard’s Chairman’s Reserve. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Grace Vineyard

Read More
Cape May Brewing makes a beer with cranberries and lemonade called The Bog. “We have a hard time keeping it in stock,” lead brewer Brian Hink says. Credit: Copyright 2015 Frank Weiss Photo

Maine lobsters. Peanut butter. Graham crackers. Old Bay Seasoning. Citrus fruits. Craft brewers are dumping out-of-the ordinary ingredients into their tanks to create newfangled beers. “Anything is fair game these days because of the innovation going on among craft brewers,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association.

What better time to try something new or offbeat than during the waning days of summer? We cast a wide geographic net to find anything unusual, surprising or particularly delicious. The results were diverse, from Choc Lobster (Maine lobsters and cocoa powder) from Delaware-based Dogfish Head, to Helluva Caucasian (based on a White Russian cocktail and using peanut butter) from Colorado’s Living the Dream Brewing Co.

These 12 beers represent new or uncommon brews. Like summer, some are fleeting and available for a limited time. Others are available in a limited geographic area, while others are more widely available.

More from Zester Daily:

»  Craft brewing revolution

»  American brewing steams along with crafts

»  Oyster stout beer is exactly that

» How local malts make beer distinctive

Main photo: Cape May Brewing Co. makes a beer with cranberries and lemonade called The Bog. “We have a hard time keeping it in stock,” lead brewer Brian Hink says. Credit: Copyright 2015 Frank Weiss Photo

Read More