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Chester County Cuisine and Nightlife Magazine Launches!

Vinted on March 19, 2009 binned in pennsylvania, wine publications
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HiYa! If you're new here, you may want to Sign Up to get all the latest wine coolness delivered to your virtual doorstep. I've also got short, easily-digestible mini wine reviews and some educational, entertaining wine vids. If you're looking to up your wine tasting IQ, check out my book How to Taste Like a Wine Geek: A practical guide to tasting, enjoying, and learning about the world's greatest beverage. Cheers!

CC Mag has launched!

I’m happy to report that Chester County Cuisine & Nightlife, a joint venture between WCDish.com and the Daily Local News, has officially launched, and includes content from yours truly.

CC Mag is free, and is dedicated to highlighting things to eat, drink, and do in Chester County, PA.  I’ll be covering all things wine-related for CC Mag – including the exciting developments happening along the Brandy Valley Wine Trail (among other things).

You can download a PDF version of the first issue of CC Magazine here.  Or, you can pick up a free printed copy at any of several dozen locations around Chester County.

I’m excited to be a part of this top-notch project, and I hope you’ll check it out!

Cheers!

(images: Chester County Cuisine & Nightlife)
  

Tales of the Purple Monkey: North vs South Riesling

Vinted on March 18, 2009 binned in Tales of the Purple Monkey, wine blogging wednesday

Another exciting edition of Tales of the Purple Monkey, in conjunction with Wine Blogging Wednesday?  Why the hell not, baby!

WBW #55 has an interesting theme, chosen this month by Rémy Charest over at the Wine Case Blog.  The theme is North vs. South, and while it implies a battle of epic bloody proportions with fundamental winemaking beliefs at stake, it’s really just meant to highlight the different wine styles that can result by cultivating the same grape in different regions, weather, and growing conditions.  For example, arid and hot (South) vs. temperate and chilly (North).

But since I’m incorrigible, I tried to line up an epic battle, and I failed miserably.  For starters, the wines I chose have a price point differential of about $50 USD.  Not a good start…  So, my contribution to this month’s WBW is more like an educational minor skirmish played out by a Cival War reenactment than it is a battle to the death.  Just as well I suppose, since the Purple Monkey is a child’s toy, so best we keep things PG…

Anyway, let’s get this party started.

I raided the sample boxes for this WBW and they yielded a great grape comparison (if anyone knows of a synonym for “comparison” that begins with the letter “G” please let me know immediately… thanks…).  Having a sweet tooth, I decided to compare late-harvest style Rieslings from the icy Great White North (Canada’s Niagara Peninsula) and the much warmer conditions of Chile’s Curico Valley. I figured that I couldn’t get any more extreme, at least in terms of winemaking geography, anyway.

Let’s start with the North, since, as I love to remind all of the relatives and in-laws from the South, deserves respect as the winning side in our little Cival War engagement.  I went with Canada’s most luscious of bounties, icewine – specifically, Inniskillin’s 2007 Riesling Icewine.

This is a wine driven by citric acidity, but saying it’s nuanced is sort of like saying that Niagara Falls is a small leak.  The Inniskillin is a bit like some sort of not-too-alcoholic, crystallized-sugar-coated candied apricot that you wish you could pop into your mouth and savor all night long.  If you were offered sex while in the middle of a glass of this, you would pause at least momentarily to ponder whether or not you should finish the glass first.  Icewine is more or less a late-harvest concoction, the grapes achieving concentration on the vine in the winter months through periods of freezing and thawing.  Once it gets cold enough, and the grapes are more or less frozen, the labor-intensive work of picking the grapes starts, usually in the middle of the freezing cold night.  Because the ice draws out the remaining water in the grape, you’re left with some very concentrated stuff at press – about 15% what you’d normally get if harvesting a dry table wine from the same amount of grapes.  All of this means that icewine can get very expensive – upwards of $100 per half bottle.  If it’s any consolation to your wallet, 2007 marked one of the best Niagara icewine vintages in recent memory.

A few thousand miles of southbound travel from Niagara will get you to Curicó, Chile, the home of our next wine: the 2007 Miguel Torres Vendimia Tardia Riesling.  Like it’s icy northern counterpart, this Riesling is also the result of late harvesting, but the primary means of concentrating the flavor of this wine comes via the help of the Botrytis fungus that raisins the grapes while on the vine.  It’s a deeper gold color than the Inniskillin, and it’s a damn sight cheaper as well.  It’s nowhere near as nuanced a wine as its northern relative, and it’s several degrees higher in alcohol, but it offers floral aromas and very concentrated and focused honey lemon flavors.  At $18 USD, it’s a good buy, but it’s not a sweet as the icewine and needs more careful thought for pairing with food, since you don’t want your dessert to be sweeter than the dessert wine.  You’d do just fine sipping this on its own after dinner, of course.

There you have it.  Not so much a battle as a study in contrasting elements of climate.  Matchups like this one are fun, and easily done.  Typically, they’re also surprising or insightful, and the major insight this little WBW experiment gave me was additional reinforcement to the notion that Riesling is simply the greatest of the world’s “noble” white wine grape varieties.  No other grape can come close to matching its versatility while maintaining its striking flavor profile across wildly different wine styles and growing conditions.

That’s my story anyway, and I’m sticking to it!

Cheers!

(images: winebloggingwednesday.org, 1winedude)

Is High-Alcohol California Wine Inevitable (Robert Parker’s Bitch, Redux)

Vinted on March 17, 2009 binned in California wine, commentary

“The industry has done everything wrong” – Paul Wagner

Well… this is interesting!

1WineDude friend, winemaker and fellow wine blogger Josh Hermsmeyer of PinotBlogger.com makes an appearance in Tina Caputo’s new web documentary, Robert Parker’s Bitch

The documentary that takes an informative and entertaining look at the subject of whether or not California winemakers are making wines for Consumers, for themselves, or are producing busty high-alcohol bombs in order to chase the almighty dollar that comes from pleasing the palates of a few wine critics, thus achieving an influential high point score and subsequent boost in sales.

Many excellent and educated opinions are offered from standout figures in the California wine world, including author Karen MacNeil, winemaking icon Randy Dunn of Dunn Vineyards, and my new marketing hero, Paul Wagner of Balzac Communications. 

Let’s just say that the topic is… complicated

And the documentary takes an admirable stab at trying to breakdown enough of the complexity to make the topic palatable.  Personally, I loved it, despite the lack of explosions, fist-fights, and nudity.

The vid is worth checking out if only to hear the comments of Paul Wagner, who clearly understands the topic at it’s most fundamental levels and matter-of-factly (and correctly) states that the wine industry has basically gotten wine marketing wrong for long, long time – and that there is a new generation of wine lovers emerging that don’t give a crap about scores, established critics, or the “rules” or wine appreciation / recommendation.

Amen, brother!

The 25-minute gem is embedded below – highly recommended.

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Robert Parker’s Bitch from Josh Hermsmeyer on Vimeo.

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Cheers!

Vintage of a Lifetime: Tales from the `07 Barrels at Chaddsford Winery

Vinted on March 16, 2009 binned in Penns Woods, pennsylvania

To understand how profoundly good the 2007 reds will be for Chaddsford Winery – and we will get to that, because the `07s are that good – you first need to understand a bit about winemaking in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

And to understand winemaking in Southeastern Pennsylvania, you first need to understand a bit about Eric Miller, the co-founder and winemaker at Chaddsford.

Eric is not just the wily, driving force behind the 25,000 case production of Chaddsford.  In many ways, he is the driving force behind wine in Southeastern PA, period. While some of his childhood was spent in the shadow of famous vineyards in Europe, his roots in Pennsylvania winemaking now run deeper than those of the vines that make up his prized Estate Vineyard in Chester County’s French Creek conservation area (the same ones that are giving birth to some of that profound red wine that’s slowly integrating in barreled slumber… more on those in a minute.. or two…).

“For the first 10 years, I didn’t know how to pick grapes,” Eric told me as we sampled some of his bright, cherry-forward 2005 Cab.  “I used to pick based on pH, then it was sugar… now, I just pick based on flavor.”

Picking based on flavor is not something that comes easily.  It takes practice – a luxury that most winemakers don’t have.

“You only get one vintage a year to get it right,” according to Eric, which is a more difficult proposition in the rough and rugged growing conditions of PA than it might be in the arid climes of California, for example.  “We have a short growing season that’s margined by death.”  In other words, get it right, and you just might get rewarded with unique wines that taste closer to the terroirs of Europe than CA.  But get it wrong, and you might get it very, very wrong.

“You only get one vintage a year to get it right.”

Eric and Chaddsford have gotten it right enough times that they’re virtually synonymous with PA winemaking.  “I see similar parallels to Pennsylvania now and Abruzzi 30 years ago,” Gino Razzi, winemaker of Penns Woods and one of Eric’s local contemporaries, told me last year. “It’s a rougher industry. It was done by people with a lot of heart; their enthusiasm was bigger then the available knowledge. They didn’t know what grapes to plant, or how to best make the wines. They did the most they could to learn. Eric was the pioneer – there were no experts or viticulturists around to learn from.”

The only way to learn, was to do.  And, of course, taste.

“I’m someone with an average palate, who happens to taste a lot of wine,” says Eric.

Which brings us back to tasting those `07s.

Considering that there probably haven’t been any vintages of Southeastern PA wine that Eric hasn’t tasted, he is in a unique position to pass judgment on the 2007 vintage as the reds mature in the small barrel room underneath the tasting area and wine shop at Chaddsford.

Eric had rated previous recent vintages as some of the best among his many years of winemaking in PA, but “after tasting the 07s,” he said, as he drew a sample from a barrel of the Cab (which has a bit of Merlot and Petit Verdot to round out the blend, “I had to re-evaluate.”

With good reason.  Simply put, the `07 reds are among the best Cabernet-based wines ever made in PA – if not the best. They’re certainly among the most concentrated, rewarding, and nuanced regional reds I’ve ever sampled.

The `07 Cabernet, sourced mostly from other PA vineyards, is already well-integrated with smoky oak, concentrated dark cherry and a pleasing sweet spice character that hits your nose immediately from the glass.

The `07 Merican (Chaddsford’s Meritage-style blend) is even better.  The Merican is sourced mostly from Chadssford’s Estate vineyard, with a higher proportion of Merlot to the blend.  Out of the barrel, it’s got Christmas spices to start, and even darker concentrated fruit than the Cab, with a roasted coffee finish that seems to last for days – easily one of the longest finishes I’ve ever experienced in a wine from PA.

Near-perfect growing conditions in `07 are responsible for the mojo.  “The effect of the weather [in PA] is profound, and painfully unpredictable,” said Eric.  “`07 Conditions were dry really up until flowering… creating really small, concentrated berries with clusters flapping in the breeze,” he added, squinting, and pinching the air to demonstrate the actual life-size of the tiny berries.  While the weather was primarily “warm, sunny, dry, and almost frost free,” the vines received “a bit of rain just as they were getting tired.”

Eric let out a heaving sigh, mimicking the relief of the grapes.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH…..”

Try those `07s once they hit the bottle, and you just might be sighing yourself.  Especially since the situation isn’t likely to repeat anytime soon, unless mother nature is feeling particularly generous.

Ahhhhhhh, indeed.

Cheers!

(images: chaddsford.com)

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