Beer, Wine, and Booze

Va La’s Zafferano

Anthony Vietri does not make a lot of wine; neither does Anthony make many types of wine. So a new, limited release from Va La is worth noting, and just as summer is reaching its midpoint, we have another one in Zafferano. Like all Va La wines, it’s made with a combination of estate-grown grapes – this time, in the style of an “orange” wine. Orange wines leave the juice in contact with the skins before being separated (hence the color). I’ve had several orange wines before, French and Italian, and I have found their style to be as varied as wines designated “white” or “red.” Not surprisingly, therefore, the Zafferano manages to stand apart from other orange wines just as Va La’s other wines stand apart from more traditional white and red.

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The first thing I noticed was the deep, rich color. I actually delayed smelling and tasting it just so I could stare at it. The nose of this wine is of some fruit, but I don’t know what type of fruit it is. It isn’t red fruit, black fruit, stone fruit, or berries. The closest thing I could think of would be watermelon, but an intensely scented and flavored watermelon. I mean, like the best watermelon I’ve ever tasted. Then, I smell flowers – honeysuckle in particular. Once I tasted it, I was surprised how those sweet aromas were combined with a taste devoid of sweetness. In other words, this wine could pair beautifully with any local food the summer spurs you to eat. So, combining a gorgeous scent with a dry taste, properly chilled, makes for an incredibly refreshing glass on a summer afternoon.

Beer, Wine, and Booze · Recipes

You Must Return Here With A Shrubbery

Several years ago, I was enjoying a drink (at a now-shuttered restaurant) so much that I complimented the bartender on my cocktail. He nodded in agreement and replied, “Shrubs are cool.” I am ashamed to admit I had no idea what he was talking about. (That’s not entirely true. There was muddled thyme in my cocktail, so I assumed he was referring to that.) Only very recently did I connect that statement with the Martha Washington Raspberry Shrub served at City Tavern, even though I have walked by the sign advertising said shrub at least a thousand times.

Needless to say, I am an extremely late-comer to the possibilities of fruit shrubs. (For those readers who truly are the last people on Earth to learn of them, shrubs are fruit-based syrups mixed with vinegar.) One day several weeks ago, I decided to experiment with some underripe strawberries, using this recipe. After a little more research, I came about this from Michael Dietsch. Taking Dietsch at his word, I used the cold method for my next shrub. However, I wasn’t using strawberries this time; I was using rhubarb recently picked from our garden.

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The result was definitely more flavorful, and Dietsch is absolutely correct that the acid mellows in time, but this shrub did not have the viscosity of the cooked one. I am confident enough in the cold method to use it for any other fruit, but given the texture of rhubarb, I think I would use the “hot” method in the hopes it might further break down and exude its juices. Nonetheless, Dietsch’s cocktail recipe was much better than the previous, and it made a delicious cocktail with club soda and Bluecoat Gin.

Beer, Wine, and Booze · Books · Cheese

Learning from DiBruno’s Emilio Mignucci

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As mentioned before, we were fortunate enough to attend a class on local cheeses at the Farm and Food Fest on Sunday. Emilio was very patient and informative as he explained different aspects of the cheesemaking process as well as his sensory experience tasting these cheeses. Below are my notes on the cheeses and the local wine I might enjoy with it. In keeping with the DiBruno Brothers theme of this post, I’ve adapted wine pairings suggestions from Tenaya Darlington’s House of Cheese. (Tenaya was also speaking at the Farm and Food Fest on Sunday, by the way.)

First up was Hummingbird from the Farm at Doe Run. This particular cheese is equal parts sheep and cow milk for part of the year. Similar to Robioloa in style, it was both creamy and earthy. This cheese would go well with a glass of Galen Glen Gewurtztraminer, the tropical fruit and floral nose should play nicely off this creamy cheese.

Next, was Willow, also from the Farm at Doe Run. This cheese is equal parts sheep, cow, and goat’s milk. The goat’s milk in this one imparted a greater tanginess. I immediately pictured eating this cheese with a nice, fresh summer salad, so I would pick a glass of Amalthea Rose (my favorite local rose last year).

The third cheese was already a favorite of mine, Birchrun Blue from Birchrun Hills Farm. Emilio told an interesting story of tasting Birchrun cheese years ago and though they were still refining their technique, it was immediately obvious to Emilio that they were working with quality milk. His description of this cheese was particularly lucid: unlike many blue cheeses, this does not overpower you with black pepper; there is an earthy, mushroom component, but also an herbal quality to it. Emilio explained it as feeling the “botanicals” on the sides of his tongue. While Darlington suggests a Sauternes for some blues, I would like to try it with Unionville Chardonnay.

This was followed by another favorite from Birchrun Hills Farm, Red Cat. Emilio used this cheese to explain the difficulties of rind development, by way of complimenting this one. Darlington suggests Pinot Noir or Burgundy, but I would be inclined to try either a Cabernet Franc from Pinnacle Ridge or a Nero D’avola from Turdo Vineyards.

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The next two were complete revelations to me. I had never heard of either creamery, much less sampled their cheeses. Johny’s Clothbound Cheddar, from Alpine Heritage Creamery, was very different from other quality American cheddars. Texturally, it the crumbliness and crunch that I have never experienced in local cheddar. The flavor was equally impressive: nutty, but also with a complex sweetness that Emilio described alternately as butterscotch and tropical fruit. While this may sound like something of a contradiction, it was actually a description of the complex flavor of the cheese. Darlington suggests Bordeux for this, so why not a Bordeaux via South Jersey? One of Amalthea’s Europa series would do nicely.

Der Weichen, from Goot Essa, was a Camembert style cheese with a very earthy taste. Emilio explained how Goot Essa is moving towards a Coop model, purchasing milk from nearby, trusted growers while they refined their craft. While it may be overkill, I would love to pair this with Va La’s Mahogany, which is probably the earthiest local wine I know.

We finished the class with the Havilah from Cherry Grove Farm, another favorite. A lovely nutty flavor to this one, Emilio suggested that it would work very well as a grating cheese over pasta. This cheese I would reserve for my favorite local red: Va La’s Cedar.

Beer, Wine, and Booze · Day Trips

A Midwinter’s Day in the Lehigh Valley

Between the melting mounds of old, dirty snow and the perpetual construction in the neighborhood, we had a strong urge to get out of the city yesterday. So, we made a return trip to of our favorite local wineries: Pinnacle Ridge and Galen Glen, both in the Lehigh Valley. As Craig Laban noted in his 2014 article, Lehigh Valley white wines are remarkable, but Pinot Noir is also served well by the cooler climate. On this trip, however, we weren’t so much sampling recent vintages as a stocking our wine cellar. (Please note that by “wine cellar,” I simply mean a cleared out space space on the floor and shelves of our basement pantry, which remains a fairly steady temperature year-round.) Tasting the wines with that specific intent altered the experience. Rather than deciding which wines I liked best, I was deciding which wines I liked that were also most versatile.

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From Pinnacle Ridge, we brought back the Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay. The Cabernet Franc has a nice, light mouthfeel and herbal, peppery taste that is slightly tannic. While the tannins could soften over time, I don’t think it will be hanging around that long. Unusual for us, we also picked up two bottles of the Chardonnay – the oaked one, mind you, and not the one fermented in stainless steel tanks. Over the winter, I found myself wanting a glass of oaked Chardonnay along with roasted whitefish or chicken. It may be the presence of butter in those dishes, or my own association of butter and oaked Chardonnay, but eating them without the wine was feeling incomplete.

From Galen Glen, we brought home a full case, eight bottles of which are the Stone Cellar Gruner Veltliner. I’ve written about this wine on several occasions before, so there isn’t much new that I can say about it. It’s delicious, fragrant, and beautifully balanced, and I can’t imagine it not improving any food it’s paired with. It’s also complex enough that I can imagine drinking eight bottles without tiring of it. We also brought home two bottles of the Stone Cellar Gewurztraminer and two of the Stone Cellar Riesling. The Gewurztraminer has a heavily floral nose and tastes of tropical fruit. I imagine pairing it with curries or spicy food quite easily. The Riesling is bracingly acidic, and it somehow manages to evoke most of the citrus fruits in a single glass. If I could ever convince the relatives to come here for Thanksgiving, this would be the wine I would serve, but this wine is so refreshing, it will work with just about anything.

Beer, Wine, and Booze · Day Trips

Day Trip: Lehigh Valley

Several weeks ago we had the opportunity of visiting four very different wineries within the span of a week. It was highly effective (not to mention enjoyable) in learning how different wine can taste – and by that I mean how different wines made from the same grape can vary year by year, vineyard by vineyard within the same area, and microclimate by microclimate.

I was particularly impressed with what we found during our day trip to the Lehigh Valley, following a route similar to Craig Laban’s. Our first stop was Pinnacle Ridge, where we focused on tasting their dry red wines. This was the first (and likely only) time I actually enjoyed a chambourcin, but more importantly I understood clearly something that Luca Turdo explained to me this summer: cabernet franc does best in colder climates. The cabernet francs I had tasted from warmer microclimates were thinner, less interesting stuff than what Pinnacle Ridge is making here. In fact, it was quite nearly the quality of Roanoke’s cabernet franc from North Fork, Long Island.

After a quick and delicious lunch from Wanamaker’s General Store, we wound our way up (quite literally) to Galen Glen winery.

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This was not my first tasting of Galen Glen, but this was my first visit to the winery. It may be the most picturesque tasting room I have seen on the East Coast. Even more impressive were the wines. The Stone Cellar Gewurztraminer had an incredibly floral bouquet and palate of tropical fruit. The dry Stone Cellar Riesling was bracingly so, with a taste of citrus. However, my absolute favorite was, and is, the Stone Cellar Gruner Veltliner. Delicious, complex, and refreshing, I have a difficulty imagining that I would ever tire of this wine. I am still kicking myself for only buying two bottles. Thankfully, they do ship within Pennsylvania.

After our week of wine tastings, and an additional one since, I have a newfound appreciation for the number of truly unique, excellent wineries within an easy drive of the city. We have had consistently and reliably good wineries for some time, but we have not gone even further with some truly exceptional ones as well.

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Beer, Wine, and Booze · Gardening · Travel

Drink Up In The Garden

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We’ve talked before about how seeking out local food on vacation has enriched our travel experiences, and a recent trip to London was no exception. We attended the Midnight Apothecary, hosted every Saturday night in the beautiful rooftop herb garden of the Brunel Museum in southeast London. Just across the street from the Thames, the Brunel Museum sits atop the very first tunnel under the river. We preferred to stay above ground, and had delicious cocktails made from herbs grown right in the garden.
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The beer served was Hiver,, brewed with honey from urban London apiaries.

Beer, Wine, and Booze · Day Trips

Unionville Vineyards

I’d first read about Unionville in reading about the Judgement of Princeton and, of course, through Carlo De Vito’s East Coast Wineries blog. This reading prepared me for the quality of wine. What it did not prepare me for was the gorgeous countryside adjacent to the Sourland Mountain Preserve. This is some of the most idyllic wine country we have seen in either Pennsylvania or New Jersey.

Unionville is actually four separate farms making wine under one moniker and winemaker, Cameron Stark. As a result, the wines vary greatly in style, from dry whites to ports. Each tasting constitutes eight wines, so we were able to sample a large portion of that variety. The tasting room is a gorgeous, bi-level, repurposed barn, and our server was knowledgeable and amiable. It is so nice, and more rare than it should be, to have a conversation about the wines we were tasting. We came away understanding the particularities of Unionville wines as well as a better understanding of winemaking in general.

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Beer, Wine, and Booze · Day Trips

Local Wine, Local Food, Local Waters

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It is difficult to imagine an event that more perfectly blended three of my favorite aspects of the Jersey Shore: wine, seafood, and the ocean. For two-and-a-half hours, a small group of us were taken on a cruise of the tall ship the A.J. Meerwald out of Cape May. As we sat enjoying the brilliant, sunset-lit skies and views, Chef Lucas Manteca (of Cape May Point’s Red Store) prepared food and the staff of Hawk Haven Winery poured us wine – lots and lots of wine.

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Of Chef Manteca and the Red Store, I have posted a great deal. To this I will only add that there is a very good reason the staff laugh in recognition when we come in yet again. This is some of the finest, freshest, most creative and varied food to be found on the Jersey Shore.

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Of Hawk Haven, I have posted before, and they remain one of the finest wineries in New Jersey. This is a far greater distinction than it might at first appear: there are now myriad wineries in the “Outer Coastal Plain” and many, like Hawk Haven, are worth far more than just a visit on a rainy day. Hawk Haven’s Signature Series, in particular, offers unique, high-quality wines grown and bottled on the estate.

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Beyond the obvious combination of these things on a sailing ship, both Chef Manteca and Hawk Haven went to great lengths to make the event even more memorable. The food served was always attuned to the wines poured: as we progressed from lighter whites to heavier reds, we moved from taquitos to seared tuna. Moreover, the variety of wines allowed for some very interesting comparisons, comparisons you would rarely be able to find at a winery or restaurant. Thus, we were able to compare vintages (2009 versus 2010) and fermentation methods (oaked versus unoaked) in a highly informative juxtaposition.

Most memorable, though, was the singularity of the experience – an experience that could not have happened anywhere else. Local wines with local food while sailing the local waters.

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Beer, Wine, and Booze · Day Trips

Coda Rossa Winery

Last year, I thought I had the highly original idea of taking our mothers to a local winery for Mother’s Day. We would taste everything, buy a bottle to open and sip outside, and bring a picnic lunch. While it was a good idea, it was not that original. In fact, it wasn’t original at all: the Garden State Wine Growers Association has thrown a lot into making Mother’s Day the perfect day for visiting a local winery; events even begin on Saturday. So much for originality.

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This year, it was Coda Rossa’s turn, which we learned of from our East Coast Wine Class. While the winery does make wines using California grapes, they also make many wines with New Jersey grapes grown primarily at the winery with some brought in from nearby farms. There were the requisite fruit wines, yes, but Coda Rossa also makes some very interesting reds. My favorite, and the one I took home, was a Cabernet Franc.

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After a thorough and comprehensive tasting (all in the name of research), we unpacked a picnic of flatbreads from Wild Flour Bakery, dips from Talula’s Table, and “savory eclairs” from Market Day Canele (all purchased in a rush to the Headhouse Market this morning); we opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio on the patio; and we looked out over the vineyard and enjoyed a warm Spring afternoon in the sun.

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Happy Mother’s Day.

Beer, Wine, and Booze · Classes

East Coast Wines from the Wine School


On Thursday, April 10th we attended a class at the Wine School of Philadelphia devoted to East Coast wine. As excited as I was to do this, I was surprised (and disappointed) when our knowledgeable, passionate instructor (Zach) told us that in years past, the Wine School has had difficulty filling seats for this class. The reason? People, it seems, are very skeptical about the idea of quality wine made on the East Coast. Zach was intent on changing that, and I suspect he succeeded with just about everyone in the room. I actually heard someone say, “California wine is dead.”

We covered most of the East Coast wine regions – Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York (the Finger Lakes), and New York (the North Fork of Long Island). In all, we tasted nine wines, four of which were from the immediate area:

1) Galen Glen Gruner Veltliner – I had tasted this wine years ago at the fantastic farm-to-table restaurant John J. Jeffries in the Lancaster Arts Hotel. I was impressed then, and even more so this time. The nose on this wine was incredibly delicious, and the acidity begged for grilled fish. This is something I could linger over with a leisurely summer dinner.
2) Va La Prima Donna – I have written about Va La before, and the more I learn of Anthony Vietri and this winery, the more impressed I am. Quite simply, I love everything they produce and I love the way they produce it.
3) Heritage BDX 2010 and BDX 2012 – These were the “biggest” wines of the evening, with complex aromas, tannins, and a long finish. For a special occasion, I wouldn’t hesitate to offer one of these, but they wouldn’t do for most meals. That is, unless you eat like royalty at every meal.

Of the remaining East Coast Wines, we tried a Keuka Lake 2012 Riesling and a Damiani 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Both of which were excellent, but neither of which I would seek out – simply a matter of personal taste.There was also another North Fork wine, a 2010 “Taste” Red Blend from Bedell, that was lovely, but with which I had a similar issue as I did with the Heritage wines and the Barboursville 2010 Petit Verdot. Again, I can’t fault any of them, but they simply weren’t my preference.

Of the non-local wines, the one I most enjoyed most was the Black Ankle 2011 Syrah. It was softer and more subtle than any of the other wines – far more so than the other reds. It wouldn’t dominate any food it might be served with – though you would have to take care not to dominate it with food. Regardless, this sustainable winery is only 132 miles from Philadelphia. I think there is a road trip in the near future.

This was my first time at the Wine School, and I was impressed with the quality of the wines Zach had procured for us. In fact, the only complaint I have – and I am not even sure if this would qualify as a complaint – is that the Wine School was so intent on convincing us that the East Coast makes great wine that we wound up drinking great wines – few of which I would drink on a daily, or even weekly, basis. So, here’s hoping the Wine School ceases to have any trouble filling those seats. With wines like this, it is hard to imagine how.