Finding history in a glass of Cognac

1811 Cognac

1811 Napoleon Cognac

Maxim's 1914 Cognac

Maxim’s 1914 Cognac

Armagnac 1893 J. Marou

Armagnac 1893 J. Marou

Coganc 1928 Croizet B Leon

Coganc 1928 Croizet B Leon

1865 Madeira Cafe Anglais

1865 Madeira Cafe Anglais Photos courtesy Old Liquors

Port 1887

Port 1887

We taste 19th century Cognac, Armagnac, Port and Madeira

By ALAN J. WAX

It was a once-in-a-lifetime tasting of liquid history.

Twenty plus connoisseurs, spirits merchants, and media gathered in the cellar tasting room of the Brandy Library in Tribeca on April 12 to sample three rare Cognacs—one produced in 1811, an Armagnac, a Port and a Madeira.

The bottles belonged to Dutch history buff and collector Bay van der Bunt, who has gathered more than 6,000 rare bottles over 40 years and who had planned to sell a 39-bottle collection from his cache at a Christie’s auction on April 13.  Alas, van de Bunt’s bottles failed to sell. But for those who attended the $250-a-ticket tasting, it was an evening that would not be forgotten.

Upon entering the Brandy Library, owned by Frenchman Flavien Desoblin, that descended a narrow spiral staircase to its cellar, a dark room illuminated by a handful of incandescent lights hung from the ceiling by copper tubing. At the front of the room, atop an old oak cask, stood the evening’s wares. Behind them, a flat-panel TV flashed a power point presentation about the collection and its sponsor, Old Liquors of Brede, Netherlands.

Greeting guests was Bart Laming, CEO of  Old  Liquors, van der Bunt’s trading and investment companies, who arranged the tasting to mark the Christie’s sale. Laming has worked closely working with van der Bunt since 2010 to develop a business plan to sell his collection.

Edwin Vos, head of Christie’s wine department in Amsterdam, assisted by Christie’s Noah May, played sommelier for the evening, carefully prying  corks from bottles untouched for more than a century. “It’s a challenge opening old bottles,” Laming noted.

And all were opened without harm and glasses filled with a few sips were distributed.

Here. In order of their presentation, are notes from my taste of history:

Madeira 1865 Café Anglais. Café Anglais opened in 1802 and today is known as the world famous Tour d’Argent.  This bottle, found buried in the restaurant’s cellar below the Left Bank, was bottled late in the 19th Century. It was purchased in 2012 for $900 and now is estimated to be worth $1,800. The wine is golden, proffers a sweet cigar-like/Acacia honey nose with notes of nutmeg, vanilla, citrus and coconut. There’s a bit of a sawdust on the finish.

Port 1887 Brand Unknown. This fortified wine from northern Portugal’s Douro Valley was produced, we were told, from a classic vintage. Bought in 2000 for $115, its value now is estimated at $1,900. The color is a hazy, light reddish orange. The nose is smoky bacon. It’s soft and elegant with notes of sweet chocolate and nuts.

Cognac 1928 Croizet B. Léon. Croizet is one of Cognac’s oldest companies, founded in the Grande Champagne appellation by Léon Croizet in 1805. This bottle, purchased in 1999 for $220, now is worth an estimated $1,200. Amber hued with a powerful nose with suggestions of banana. The palate offers orange peel and spice notes and a bit of Speculoos biscuit.

Cognac 1914 Maxim’s, Caves du Restaurant. A bottle from the cellars of the famous Paris bistro, known for its Art Nouveau decor and beautiful women. Purchased in 2003 for $310 it might sell today for $2,350. Golden, amber hue. A nose of prunes and musk melon. Hot and spicy, a broad palate with notes of biscuits and passion fruit.

Armagnac 1893 Jacques Marou. This spirit from Armagnac-Ténarèze appellaton is from a family producer that’s been around since 1650.  Ténarèze is considered the strongest-tasting Armagnac, reaching full flavor at a later age than those of Bas- and Haut-Armagnac.

Cognac 1811 Napoléon. 1811, the Year of the Comet, was considered the greatest vintage in Western Europe of the 19th Century. Though produced in 1811, when Napoleon was at its peak, Vos said, this Cognac may have remained in cask for 50 years. Purchased in 2000 for $1,700, today it’s worth $8,000. Amber colored with a rich, caramel nose. It’s a tad floral with notes of spice, oak and brown sugar.

All told, an amazing experience.

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Collection of rare Cognacs, Armagnacs fails to sell at Christie’s NYC auction

Bottles from Bray van der Bunt's Presidential Collection of rare Cognacs and Armagnacs

Bottles from Bay van der Bunt’s Presidential Collection of rare Cognacs and Armagnacs

Bidding on 39 bottles distilled from 1789 to 1977 does not meet reserve price of $100,000

 

By ALAN J. WAX

A collection of liquid history remains unsold.

The collection of 39 rare, historic bottles of Cognac and Armagnac went up for sale at Christie’s Auction House in New York on April 13. Now, they’re being re-packed and returned to the seller.

The set, called the American Presidential Collection  and the first potential sale by a Dutch collector, however, failed to meet the seller’s reserve price of $100,000.

The collection, on sale as one lot, included bottles of Cognac distilled during each American presidential term, from 1789, when George Washington first became president of the United States, to 1977, when Jimmy Carter moved into the White House. The collection included rate Cognacs from from famous houses such as Courvoisier 1884, Marnier-Lapostolle 1865, Otard Dupuy 1865, Bisquit Dubouché 1858, Pierre Chabanneau 1850, Meuow 1842, AE Dor 1840 and one extremely rare bottle of 1789 Grand Champagne Cognac,

The bottles belong to renowned Dutch history buff and collector Bay van der Bunt, who with help from investors gathered more than 6,000 bottles of rare elixirs worth $15 million over 40 years.  The auction had been arranged by  Bart Laming, who since 2010 has been managing director of  van der Bunt’s trading and investment companies, Old Liquors.    “This is the first time a collection of this type has come to the market,” Laming said.

Many of the bottles had been acquired years earlier by van der Bunt through estate auctions in Europe and through auctions at Christie’s in London. Laming, at a tasting on the eve of the auction, said many of the bottles had increased in value at compounded annual rates of 10 to almost 20 percent from the time they were acquired.

Van de Bunt, who is 67, decided it was time to sell some of his assets,” Laming said. “He can’t take it with him.”

Bart Laming of Old Liquors

Bart Laming of Old Liquors

Laming said he was disappointed that bidding stalled at $95,000. Sales materials for the auction forecast a sales range of $100,000 to $150,000 for the collection. The Cognac lot was squeezed into a sale of sculpture and other art works that generated more than $10.5 million in winning bids.

“It was a challenge,” Laming said of the attempt to sell the Cognacs among the 36 lots of decorative arts. But he noted the collection “represented the art of distilling.”

Laming said he surmised that the Asian bidders he and Christie’s hoped to attract might have found it difficult for the collection to travel easily across borders.

Old Liquors will try again to sell the bottles in Asia in the fall, Laming said, adding trip to the United States was successful nonetheless, since it enabled him to meet liquor merchants whom his Old Liquors might sell to in the future. “The mission was successful,” he noted.

Up Next:  Tasting rare Cognacs, Armagnacs, Port and Madeira

 

 

 

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A chocolate beer instead of Easter eggs?

Chocolate-Ale-Bottle-Label-1600x1600

 

A proliferation of chocolate-flavored beers provides a twist for Easter quaffing

By Alan J. Wax

What will the Easter Bunny bring you? Some chocolate eggs?  Better still, some chocolate beer?

Easter is the perfect excuse to indulge in as much chocolate as possible with no regrets. For all the adults looking to treat themselves this Easter weekend it’s the perfect time consider a beer made with chocolate.

There are plenty of choices as brewers increasingly have been wedding chocolate in its various forms with the maltiness of their brews. The result can be tasty.

Typically, chocolate beers are produced using dark chocolate or cocoa in various forms during different parts of the brewing process, depending on how much chocolate influence the brewer wants to impart.

Often, these beers are stouts. The malt flavors in stouts and porters often mimic flavors of dark chocolate and roasted coffee beans anyway, so if a brewer wants to take it the next level, they can add actual chocolate for aroma and (or) flavor. Chocolate beers can range in taste from a chocolate milkshake to burnt cocoa — depending on the brewer’s preference.

Chocolate beers can be the perfect pairing to dessert or even as a substitution for it. Try a sweet chocolate beer (like Boulder Shake) with drier desserts, say a black chocolate cake that’s more on the bitter side, or a creamy vanilla ice cream, so that the beer serves as a chocolate sauce on top.

Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock, which I first sampled in 2003, was among the first of this ilk. Nearly an opaque, ruby- black brew, I recall it as smooth with a lingering chocolate aftertaste.

A much sought after beer:  The cocoa-infused Sexual Chocolate by Foothills Brewing Co., a brew pub in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is a Russian Imperial Stout that weighs in at over 9 percent ABV. It attracts hundreds of devotees to the brewery every year to get their hands on this special release. Unfortunately, I’ve not sampled it.

Barrage Brewing Co., in Farmingdale, Long Island, produces a couple of chocolaty brews. One is Yada Yada Yada, a brown ale that’s sort of Snickers bar in liquid form. Peanuts dominate the palate, which includes notes of caramel and chocolate. Barrage’s Assault ‘N Fudgery is Bosco (a chocolate syrup popular in the New York area for decades) gone boozy. It’s sweet and chocolaty and best slowly sipped.

To be sure, there are many others.

Evil Twin Even More Denmark is a terrific ebony hued brew with a nose of orange peel marinated in alcohol. Orange and alcohol flavors mingle on the palate.  It’s velvety with a bitter chocolate finish. It was sold only at Whole Foods Market.

Dogfish Head Theobroma, a chili beer with chocolate among its flavorings also is a winner and has been around since about 2008. It’s a cloudy, deep gold with a fruity nose and light chili pepper notes on the palate. The chocolate is subtle and the finish is sweet.

Dogfish Head Higher Math is definitely a beer for dessert. Murky brown, it exudes cherries and cocoa on the nose. It’s thick and mouth-coating, sort of like a high octane chocolate-covered cherry.

Boulevard Chocolate Ale is a richly flavored American-style strong ale that debuted in 2011 and is produced as a collaboration with Kansas City chocolatier Christopher Elbow as part of the brewery’s Smokestack Series. Deep gold in color, there is a complex meld of chocolate, caramel and vanilla notes.

Moody Tongue Caramelized Chocolate Churro Baltic Porter, from the chef-led Chicago brewery, is brown in color, spritz and has notes of cinnamon but only a hint of chocolate.

New Belgium Brewing Co.’s Salted Caramel Brownie Ale with its chocolaty nose, is a light style, easy drinking brew that seems more like a cream soda with a strong vanilla finish.  It’s a collaboration with ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s.

New Belgium Brewing Lips of Faith Chocolate Stout exhibits big alcohol notes and a burnt caramel flavor. It finishes on the sweet side.

Boulder Beer Co. Shake Chocolate Porter is definitely easy drinking, like a creamy, chocolate milk shake.

Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, an import from England, hits you with its big chocolate nose, but the impression on the palate is light and silky smooth.

Off Color Brewing’s Dino S’mores is an opaque, black-hued, high-alcohol brew with notes of roasted coffee and chocolate on the nose. The palate suggests creamy marshmallow but that flavor fade fast. It’s a thick, chewy brew.

Evil Twin Christmas Eve in A New York City Hotel Room is a potent, opaque black imperial stout with a nose and palate that suggests crème cacao chocolate liqueur. It’s rich and smooth with a light alcoholic bite (10% ABV).

Funky Buddha Nib Smuggler Chocolate Porter, a winter brew from the Fort Lauderdale brewery, is a deep brown milk porter with a nose of chocolate syrup and notes of roasted grain. There’s chocolate and vanilla in each sip. The finish is dry malty finish.

There are many more out there, I‘m sure.  If you find them give ’em a try. They’re unique and fun to drink.

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A new style Barbera, made from dried grapes, reaches the U.S.

An approachable, affordable, elegant red wine from Italy’s Piedmont region

Ricossa Barbera Appassimento on the table at Lupa Restaurant in New York City

Ricossa Barbera Appassimento on the table at Lupa Restaurant in New York 

By Alan J. Wax

An Italian wine producer little known to many in the U.S. is about to launch a new style of Barbera. This new Piedmontese red, sold under the Ricossa Antica Casa brand, borrows the appassimento winemaking technique, which uses dried grapes and is popular in the Valpolicella district of another northern Italian wine region, the Veneto.

This new wine is made from grapes that are left to dry for several weeks prior to crushing. The result: a higher sugar-to-juice ratio that fills out the body and results in a rounder, more elegant wine and, in the case of the Ricossa wine, a softening of the acidity often associated with Barbera.

The wine, which I sampled at a luncheon sponsored by Ricossa’s owner, MGM Mondo del Vino, at Lupa Restaurant in New York City’s Greenwich Village, is an approachable, light-medium-bodied, dry wine with a smooth red-berry and cherry fruit. It’s drinkable alone — or with many foods. Ricossa Appassimento Barbera 2014, which has an ABV of 13.5 percent, will retail in the U.S. for about $26 for a 750 ml bottle.

The 2014 Ricossa is the first appassimento wine ever produced in the Piedmont and followed a year-long government approval process. Ricossa, which produced 80,000 bottles of the new style wine, until now has been sold mostly in the Midwest, according to brand manager Andrea Marazia,

Despite the similar process, this new-style Barbera is different from the rich, high alcohol Amarone wines made using the same process in Valpolicella. In the latter, the grapes are dried for four months — on straw mats — before vinification. Ricossa’s Barbera grapes are handpicked and dried in a ventilated room for at least three weeks. The fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks with skin for about two weeks and then is matured, 60 percent in barriques and 40 percent in stainless, for eight months, followed by a minimum six months in bottle.

A shipment of the new wine, a group of wine writers were told at the luncheon, is at sea, heading to the U.S. the wine. The wine already is available in Canada and Europe.

Ricossa, which buys its grapes from a consortium of growers in the Piedmont, came up with the idea of using the appassimento process almost three years ago and working with the growers worked for a year to obtain government approval for the new DOC, or Denominazione di Origine Controllata (controlled designation of origin).

Barbera is the third-most-planted grape variety in Italy, outside of Sangiovese and Montepulciano and is known for its deep purplish hue, low tannins, high acidity and robust well-rounded flavors, making perfect for pairing anything from flavorful cheese to pasta  to stewed or grilled meat.

Ricossa Antica Casa is named for a long-shuttered Piedmontese distillery that dated back to the early 1800s. The name was acquired by MGM Mono del Vino to produce a range of classic Piedmontese wines, including Ricossa Barolo DOCG, Barbera d’Asti DOC, Moscato d’Asti DOCG, and Gavi DOCG, that are considered good values.

A group of winemakers founded MGM Mondo del Vino in 1991. It was acquired in 2013 by the Mondodelvino Group SpA. The parent company operates in many areas of Italy, producing a wide variety of wines under a number of labels including those of major retailers. The company produce 25 million 750 ml bottles and 4.5 million 3L boxes of wine each year, which are export to over 40 countries.

Though best known for their reds, Ricossa produces one still white wine, a Gavi, made from 100 percent Cortese. It’s a dry, crisp wine. It also makes a delightful, soft uncloying, slightly frizzante Moscato d’Asti.

Ricossa wines are imported by Touchstone Wines of Redwood City, California.

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The best beers I had in 2015

25 all-star brews includes sours, barrel-aged beers and more from U.S. and Belgium

By Alan J. Wax

What a year it’s been!

As 2015 draws to a close, it’s time to take stock of what’s gone down my gullet—or the sink drain. To be sure, I sampled and rated hundreds of beers. Many of them were excellent, a great many more bordered on excellence and some less so. There also were a few drain pours.

These were beers I’d sampled at home, at breweries, brew pubs, bars, restaurants and beer festivals. Mea culpa. I failed to take notes on many of the beers sampled at the Great American Beer Festival and at local fests due to the tasting experience, except for a few true standouts.

To my surprise, so many of my top picks for this year were American craft brews, including a couple produced by a brewery owned by AB-InBev (Chicago’s Goose Island and several from breweries in South Florida, where I have a second home and where new breweries seem to open almost monthly and several from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City. A few Belgian brews also stood out.

Sour beers, of which we’re seeing more and more, are well represented.

RodebbacgOf the hundreds of beers tasted over the past 12 months, I rated only 25 at five stars on Untappd.com (You can follow me there under corkscapsandtaps). A handful of brewers made the list more than once, Here are my picks (listed alphabetically):

2011 Vintage Oak Aged Ale (Barrel No 95) by Belgium’s Brouwerij Rodenbach. Murky brown with a nose that suggests leather oak. On the palate there was a fruit bowl of flavors including dried prunes, raspberries, grapes and cherry along with hints of Brett. Simply amazing stuff.

Barrel-aged Project (Blonde Ale): No. 6 Porto by Belgium’s Brouwerij Hof Ten Dormaal. This deep copper colored brew is part of importer B United International’s ambitious barrel aging project. The nose suggested Port wine nose and its incredibly complex palate weaves notes of bread, honey, plum and oak. It finishes quite tart.

Bourbon County Stout Vanilla Rye (2014) by Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago. Hard to find, but worth the effort to search it out for its silky smoothness and intense vanilla and spice character.

Collaboration No. 3 – Stingo by Boulevard Brewing in collaboration with Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project. A deep copper, traditional English strong ale with a tan head and a nose of roasty grain. Notes of cocoa and toffee and some hints of black pepper accompany its chewy, but silky, texture.

Common Good, a deep brown, American wild ale by Fullsteam Brewing of Durham, North Carolina, It’s brewed with locally sources agricultural products including a corn mash, apples, rye and barley. Just luscious with notes of corns, apples, nutty malt and bready yeast.

Dark Truth Stout, also by Boulevard Brewing. Ebony colored, this double stout is thick and richly flavored with notes of chocolate, caramel and spices.

Halia (2015), also by Goose Island.  A hazy golden brew that erupts with its Brett nose and lots of sharp, lacto tartness and finishes with notes of juicy peaches.

Imperial Stout (2014) by Boulevard Brewing Co., Kansas City, Missouri. Ebony hued with a vanilla nose the notes of whisky from barrel aging are well integrated. A chewy, oily brew, it offers notes of dark molasses and finishes bitter.

Last-Snow-Tap-StickerLast Snow (2015), also by Funky Buddha Brewery. An imperial coconut-coffee porter that shows off an incredible mélange of chocolate and coconut notes and more.

More Moro, a blood orange IPA from Funky Buddha Brewery, is deep gold and offers a huge citrus nose. Juicy orange/citrus flavors cut through hop bitterness. It finishes up spicy dry and orangey. Both delicious and drinkable.

Rye Saison by Wynkoop Brewing Co., Denver, Colorado This reddish brown ale is malty sweet. With notes of yeast, spices snd black pepper. It’s rich and velvety.

Once Upon A Time 1955 Double Brown Ale by the soon to be or, perhaps, now-shuttered quirky Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, of Somerville, Massachusetts. Colored deep mahogany with a dense, foamy head this beer as the Brit’s like to say is quite “moreish,” meaning when you finish one, you’ll want another. Its nose proffers rich notes of malt and cocoa nose. It’s smooth on the palate with notes of bread and caramel malt notes and a pleasant roasty finish. An homage to the beers of Merry Old England.

Parade of Souls Belgian Imperial Stout by Barrel Of Monks Brewing, Boca Raton, Florida. A rich, ebony-hued brew with a nose of chocolate liquor with notes of dried fruits and chocolate and a finish that won’t quit.

Porter by Founders Brewing Co. of Grand Rapids, Michigan. A mouth-filling brew with an opaque deep brown hue and a mocha-colored head, it has a nose of concentrated chocolate with hints of licorice. There’s more chocolate along with roasted grain and sultana raisins on the palate and a finish of bittersweet chocolate.

St. Bretta (Gold Nugget Mandarin) by Denver’s Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project. A cloudy light orange-hued Brett brew with a short head. There’s tart orange on the nose. Ditto for the palate. It finishes dry. It’s lip-smacking delicious.

Saaz Matters by Funky Buddha Brewery, Oakland Park, Florida. There’s an immediate hit to the nose and palate of Saaz hops in this golden brew that danced all over my tongue. Could easy pass for a Czech Pilsner with its balance malt and crispness. Well done.

Timmerman's oude gueuze

Timmerman’s oude gueuze

Stay Puft Marshmallow Porter by J. Wakefield Brewing, of Miami. This was an incredibly rich and delicious sweet stout redolent of creamy vanilla notes and chocolate.

Timmermans Oude Gueuze by Brewery John Martin & Brewery Timmermans of Belgium. A hazy gold brew with a lactic nose, this was a big time pucker, a beer to savor with tart lemony and dry notes that went on forever. This is what a sour beer should be.

Trébuchet Golden Farmhouse Ale by Ladyface Alehouse and Brasserie of Agora Hills, California.  This  golden brew wowed me at GABF with its tart nose and an intense, dry tart hit on the palate accompanied by a tasty Brett character.

 

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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ top Cabs offer reminder of restrained California wines

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates New York State Manager Brian Strauss conducts Stag's Leap Wine Cellars tasting

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates New York State Manager Brian Strauss conducts Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars tasting at Long Island’s Post Wines.

 SLWC wines, especially Cabs, show well at a retail tasting

By Alan J. Wax

I’ve never been a big fan of California wines, but a recent tasting at a shop near my home happily reminded me of the fine wines being produced at Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

I’d sampled the wines of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars from time to time in the past at various large, industry walk-around tasting events, but never before had an opportunity to give them a more contemplative look.

I left the tasting at Post Wines in Syosset, Long Island, quite impressed and quite happy.

The wines were exciting, particularly the reds. The Stag Leap Wine Cellars’ Cabernet Sauvignons showed tannic structure, acidity, and for the most part, restrained fruit, which probably explains my enjoyment.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars has a terrific story. Warren Winiarski, a former college professor, founded the winery in 1972 and in 1979 it gained worldwide acclaim when its second vintage, the 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon, bested a group of handpicked Bordeaux wines in a blind tasting by French judges held in Paris during the American bicentennial. The tasting advanced not only the reputation of Stag’s Leap but also those of Napa Valley and California. The tasting became the subject of a 2005 book by George M. Taber, “Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine.” Washington-based Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Tuscan vintner Piero Antinori, partners in various wine ventures, have owned Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars since 2007.

New ownership brought changes, the tasting group at Post was told by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates New York State Manager Brian Strauss, including replacing vinyl piping with stainless steel and adding air conditioning to the winery’s aging caves, all of which, he said, resulted in better wines, beginning with the 2012 vintage. The partners also brought in a new wine maker in 2013, Marcus Notaro, from the Col Solare winery in Washington, which they jointly own.

We sampled wines from the 2012, 2013 and 2014 vintages starting with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Aveta 2014 ($22). Straw-hued, with a grassy, herbal nose, there’s grass and grapefruit on the palate with just enough acidity to keep it interesting.

We followed with another white, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Karia Chardonnay 2013 ($28). This straw-hued, creamy Chard offered hints of spice on the nose and pear and vanilla on the palate along with lip-smacking acidity.

Then onto the Cabs, for which Stag’s Leap remains best known. The winery’s top wines and, perhaps most-renown, are its Cask 23 Cabernet blend, which sells for $150— not poured at the recent tasting – and the Fay and S.L.V. bottlings. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ fame is closely linked to its signature estate vineyards, S.L.V. and FAY. The FAY Vineyard was planted in 1961 as the first Cabernet Sauvignon site in the Stags Leap District. The S.L.V. Vineyard was planted in 1970.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($55). This deep purple seems the antithesis of its pricier siblings with oak dominating the blackberry and cherry fruit and the finish. Not particularly a favorite at this stage.

Stag’s Leap FAY Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($1205). Deep purple hued with notes of spice and cherries on the nose. It’s quite approachable despite its youth and very fruit forward.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($120). The final wine of the evening – they saved the best for last. Dark and inky, this was a powerful, full-bodied wine with loads of black fruit and spice notes from nose to palate. I’d love to taste this beauty after a few years of aging.

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Two newcomers to Denver’s bustling beer scene offer unusual brews

Following up on my visit to the Mile High City for GABF

Ratio bar

Ratio’s tasting bar

Spangalang's tasting bar

Spangalang’s tasting bar

By Alan J. Wax

America’s Mile High City is bubbling over in beer.

That’s something a visitor to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver late in September could quickly have discovered. I did.

Some five dozen breweries now produce lagers, ales and stouts within the 155-square-mile confines of Colorado’s capital city, almost half of them opened in the last two years.

During my visit to the GABF, I got to experience some of the city’s bustling beer culture with a visit to two its newest production breweries, Ratio Beerworks and Spangler Brewery, courtesy of the Denver Convention and Visitors Bureau, which arranged a bus tour for a group of beer writers and bloggers. The tour, led by Ed Sealover, a reporter with the Denver Business Journal and author of “Mountain Brews,” didn’t’ travel very far from Downtown.

Ratio logoOur first stop was Ratio in what’s known as the River North, or RINO, neighborhood. Here, Jason zumBrunnen, a former brewer at the city’s pioneering Wynkoop brew pub, has partnered with Zach Lowery and Scott Kaplan to open a music-inspired, 5,500 square-foot brewery (with a 20-barrel system) and taproom in a former distillery. Ratio, which produces beer on a 20-barrel system, traces its roots to its owners’ days in the punk rock music scene of the late 90’s. Their idea was to combine the marketing and business sense they acquired in the music business with their knowledge of brewing,

It appears to be working. The taproom was abuzz with visitors during our beer week tour and the beers I sampled were both unusual and quality brews

Though I only had timet to sample three beers, there were no disappointments.

Wicked Grin was a terrific saison made with plums that had an intense tart character and nice black pepper notes. Hold

Steady with Coffee, a deep brown ale, struck me as something akin to the ice coffees one finds in Southeast Asian restaurants, cold and sweet.

The Knew Gose was a delightful summer quencher with great lime notes.

Spangalang logoOur next stop brought us to another close-to-downtown neighborhood that’s undergoing revitalization, Five Points, which in its heyday was a jazz mecca that rivaled Harlem. Here, we found the Spangalang Brewery, which riffs on Welton Street’s jazz roots. Housed in a former motor vehicle office, the tasting room walls are adorned with framed jazz album covers. Former Great Divide brewers Austin Wiley, Darren Boyd and Taylor Rees produce the beers, made in an adjacent space several feet below ground.

Spangalang, which opened in April, is already a winner; Its Table Beer won GABF gold in the category known as Other Belgian-Style Ale

The brewery takes its name from a jazz term that refers to a cymbal pattern.

Here, I sampled a number of sour and Brettanomyces focused beers and one more mainstream brew

Pure Gold, a sour beer made with tart cherry juice and rose water and 100 percent fermented with Brett. Cloudy gold, I found the Brett character muted and only hints of sour cherries.

Mr. Ra’s Interplanetary Influence, homage, I presume, to jazz composer Sun Ra, another Brett brew that is cloudy gold and, again muted Brett character.

Cucumber Gose, a collaboration brew with the Real Dill pickle company, Fresh cucumber juice and coriander are added post fermentation to this slightly sour, salted wheat beer. An interesting concept, but it was a bit like drinking from a pickle barrel.

Bossman Marzen. Tasted at the advice of a colleague, this amber brew game off notes of fruity malt and caramel on both the nose and the palate. Definitively more pleasing that the sours.

Though GABF won’t be around for almost another year, if you find yourself in Denver before then you’ll be quite pleased with these newcomers—as well as the many other beer makers across the Mile High City.

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Ciders that turned wine writers’ heads

Author's top pick, Christian Drouhin Poire

Author’s top pick, Christian Drouhin Poire

Apple and pear ciders demonstrate at a New  York tasting that they are earning a place at the dining table

By Alan J. Wax

When members of the Wine Media Guild of New York convened recently in the private dining room of Felidia, in Manhattan, there were no elegant Chardonnays to be tasted, no sensual red Burgundies, no coveted First Growth Bordeaux wines and no well-aged Barolos.

No, at this meeting of wine writers, the drink of the moment had nothing to do with grapes. Instead, the scribes sampled a beverage that in recent years has soared in popularity: hard cider. And many of the writers, new to cider, took great pleasure in their discoveries,

Indeed, hard, or alcoholic cider, is among the hottest alcoholic beverage categories in the U.S. The Chicago-based market research firm IRI reported that cider sales soared 75.4 percent over the12 months that ended Nov. 30, 2014 to $366 million, or about 1 percent of the beer market.

Cider, to be sure, is technically a wine, albeit one made from apples, or, in some instances pears and, generally, one of less than 7 percent alcohol by volume. Cider makers typically ferment their fruit juices with natural wild yeasts, yeasts used in winemaking, and occasionally, at least in the U.S., with yeast strains used by Belgian brewers.

In the past, cider was confused with apple wine and was considered a sweet/carbonated drink. Lately, however, there’s been a move to make dry and semi-dry ciders, driven in part by the gluten free movement and the perception that the sweeter taste of cider, with a similar alcohol level to beer, will appeal to women and drinkers seeking novelty. Under U.S. tax regulations, fermented apple and pear drinks may only be labeled cider if they contain less than 7 percent alcohol by volume.

To be sure, cider is not new. It goes back millennia to Roman times. In colonial America it was the beverage of choice until German immigrants brought their beers to our shores, the wine writers learned from event speaker Daniel Pucci, cider sommelier at Wassail, a cider bar and restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Pucci also discussed the cider-making process — and its various styles.

Oliver's Classic Perry, from England

Oliver’s Classic Perry, from England

Cider, like its vinous distant relative, can be produced from one or more varietals and in range of styles, often dependent on the traditions of the region where the cider was made. Ciders at this tasting originated in England; Normandy, France, Basque, France; New York, New England, Virginia and California.

And the distinctions are readily apparent.

In the United States, most ciders are produced from culinary apples— the kind you find at your local supermarket, thus producing beverages that tend to be sweet, though there are exceptions. But in Europe, ciders are produced from fruits grown especially for cider making that tend to more acidic and more tannic and largely inedible. Oh, but do they make great quaffs.

At this tasting we had more than 30 ciders to taste, including a few perries (pear ciders), so many were enjoyable, particularly the pear versions. Confession, I skipped those flavored with spices, flowers and hops and by and large favored the European ciders.

My top picks:

Aaron Burr Cidery Homestead East Branch, from Wurtsboro, New York. Made from foraged wild apples, this light gold rendition was dry, spicy and yeasty.

Bad Seed Cider, from New York’s Hudson Valley. A surprising dry, straw-hued cider with a tart apple character that was crafted from culinary apples. A great companion to food.

Christian Drouhin Poiré, from Normandy.  Drouin is known for its Calvados. Without a doubt, my No, 1 pick of the tasting. Made from pears grown on 200-year-old trees, it has a sensual elegance that starts with delicate pear aromas and continues with a flavorful, soft mineral quality.

Etienne Dupont Bouche Brut, from Normandy. Champagne clear, it starts a bit funky and is dry with bracing acidity from start to finish.

Ettienne DuPont Tripel Cidre, fermented three times

Ettienne DuPont Tripel Cidre, fermented three times

Etienne Dupont Cidre Tripel, from Normandy. Fermented three times with Champagne yeasts, including a dosage, this amber cider is made from bitter apple varieties. It’s dry, savory and has quite a bit tannin that makes it seem a somewhat weighty.

Farnham Hill Semi-Dry, from Lebanon, New Hampshire. Mild gold in appearance, this serious cider burst with red apple and mineral flavors. Not as sweet as its name might suggest,

Oliver’s Classic Perry, from Hereford, England. A fruity, off-dry drink that screams out its pear character.

Titled Shed Ciderworks Graviva from Sonoma, California. There’s a tart green apple character through and through this semi-dry sparkler made largely with Gravenstein apples. There’s also a bit of earthy funk and tannin.

One thing this tasting demonstrated: Cider is earning its place at the table.

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He missed a trip to the GABF, but his beer won gold in Pro-Am competition

The story behind this year’s pro-am winning beer and Long Island home brewer Brian Giebel

Great South Bay Brewery owner Rick Sobotka, Brian Giebel and lead brewer Jon Gomez (photo courtesey Great South Bay Brewery)

Great South Bay Brewery owner Rick Sobotka, home brewer Brian Giebel and GSB lead brewer Jon Gomez  brewing Muscat Love. (photo courtesy Great South Bay Brewery)

By Alan J. Wax

A new job prevented a high school chemistry teacher from Babylon, New York from attending the Great American Beer Festival and its annual awards ceremony. But minutes after the first gold medal was announced for the festival’s Pro-Am competition, Brian Giebel, stopped grading his students’ work to answer his phone.

Pitcher of Muscat Love at GABF's Pro-Am tasting table

Pitcher of Muscat Love at GABF’s Pro-Am tasting table

On the line at 10:15 a.m. Mountain Time was Phil Ebel V, chief operations officer at the Great South Bay Brewery (GSB) of Bay Shore. The reason for the Sept. 26 call: to tell Giebel that the beer he initially entered in a local home brew competition and later brewed at GSB for the Pro-Am competition, Muscat Love, had just been awarded a gold medal, topping 91 other brews that were collaborations between home brewers and commercial breweries.

“I told him we won—he won—the gold medal,” Ebel said. “He asked, ‘Are you kidding?’ ”Just days after the medal ceremony, Ebel recalled, “I was pretty crazy. It’s Its really an incredible feeling to sit down for the awards ceremony and win gold within five minutes of sitting down.”

Ebel and his GSB colleagues had arrived at the ceremony at the Colorado Convention Center hopeful that Muscat Love would have a chance in competition with 90 other brews. “It’s a fantastic beer,” said Ebel. But when the gold was announced, Ebel recalled, “I was speechless. I was over the moon”

GSB also won a gold medal for its Hog Cabin Maple Bacon Porter in the specialty beer category, which had 59 entrants. The 2015 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) competition awarded 275 medals to some of the best commercial breweries in the United States, plus three GABF Pro-Am medals. (You can view the 2015 winners or download a PDF list of the winners.) Presented by the Brewers Association, GABF is the largest commercial beer competition in the world and a symbol of brewing excellence.

Muscat Love labelThe story behind this year’s pro-am gold winner goes back a decade, when Giebel, now 40, started home brewing. Giebel, who now dreams of going pro, produced Muscat Love, a Belgian-style triple that used canned Muscat grape puree instead of candi sugar as a fermentable, on his 10-gallon, garage- housed system. Giebel had intended to use the grape puree in another brew, but decided instead to brew a tripel, because, he said, “I liked that style and that yeast character and thought it would work well with the grapes.” He entered into a competition for members held monthly by Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts, a home brew club. Each monthly winner is brewed on GSB’s 1-barrel pilot system and sold in the brewery’s taproom.

Earlier this year, Ebel, brewery owner Rick Sobotka and Andrew Luberto, a national Beer Judge Certification Program home brew judge, selected Muscat Love from among the club’s half-dozen winners of the past year, including an IPA, a pre-Prohibition-style lager with chilies and a gose, to enter in the Pro-Am.

“We felt Brian’s beer was the best tasting and most complex out of all of them,” Ebel said..

Days after the Sept. 26 award announcement, Giebel, who has a PhD in chemistry, says he’s still stoked about becoming a hero home brewer. “It was a little surreal. I never really thought I had a shot at it.”

And, he adds that winning the Pro-Am, could provide new impetus to his aim to go pro. “This ramps up my interested a hundred fold to get things going.”

 

 

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Beer retailer’s first GABF trip is as much about socializing as it is sampling brews

GABF first-timer David Schultzer schmoozes first, tastes second

The scene at the GABF (photo courtesy American Brewers Association)

The scene at the GABF (photo courtesy American Brewers Association)

GABF_Logo_LRG_V_RGBBy Alan J. Wax

For Dave Schultzer, a New York beer retailer, his first trip to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver was in a word, “overwhelming.”

Schultzer, who for the past 18 years has operated Bellport Cold Beer and Soda, a beer store with more than a thousand different bottles, in Bellport, Long Island, spent more time during his inaugural Sept. 24 visit to America’s biggest beer talking with the brewery people he’s gotten to know over the years than he did tasting beer.

Schultzer was one of some 60,000 people expected  to descend on GABF this year, the largest three-day crowd in the event’s 33-year history. Tickets, released in July, sold out within an hour.

As he made his way into the sprawling exhibition hall of the Colorado Convention Center, Schultzer took note of the space’s enormity— and the plethora of bearded gents in black shirts, the defacto uniform of many craft brewery workers. “I’ve never been in a beer event anywhere near the size and scale of this thing.”

But Schultzer was unperturbed by what might lay ahead. Over the course of nearly five hours during the first of four GABF sessions, Schultzer crisscrossed the convention center’s exposition hall, the size of 10 football fields, dozens of times. “That’s a massive amount of space to cover,” he noted.

Yet, over five hours he sampled only two dozen brews of the 3,500 available while taking14 selfies with brewing industry folks on his iPhone.

Schultzer and Captaiin Lawrence's Scott Vaccarro.

The reason, he explained, was his need to re-connect with brewery owners that he helped in bringing their products t0 Long Island. He also visited with his friends from Long Island breweries. Among those he connected with were Sam Calagione of Dog Fish Head of Milton, Delaware, Scott Vaccarro of Captain Lawrence Brewing, Jeremy Cowan of Schmaltz Brewing, and Eric Wallace of Left Hand Brewing, of Longmont, Colorado. And he made new friends, too, among them Hugh Lewis of (512) Brewing Co. of Austin, Texas.

Left Hand's Eric Wallace and Schultzerx

Left Hand’s Chris Lennert and Schultzer

 

“That’s the fun of the show for me,” he noted, adding, “There’s so much to see and when you know a lot of people, you allot time for seeing them, but you end up with not a lot of time for yourself.”

As for the beers he sampled, he said, “We started off on a high note with a sample of Goose Island Vanilla Rye Bourbon Stout.” But he also enjoyed, he said, Barrel Licked Boot from Fort Collins Brewery, Barrel-Aged Narwhal from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Udder Love from Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, of Long Beach, California, Peanut Butter Milk Stout from Belching Beaver of Vista, California,

Schultzer said his first GABF experience was fun. “Being around like-minded people who are happy to see you is not a bad way to spend a day.”

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