Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bogedas Numanthia: Heavyweights from Toro

Handle with care. These bottles weigh a ton.
This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

If you know Toro, you know Bodegas Numanthia. This estate’s bruiser reds have received praise from many respected voices in the wine world. And, when you taste the wines, it’s easy to understand why they engender so much excitement.

These wines come out slugging. They’re not shifty boxers, they’re fat heavyweights who lean on their opponents and knock them out with single punches to the temple. The intense power and concentration in these wines demands attention. But by their nature, they lack the finesse, sleekness, elegance.

So, I tasted these three wines sighted, and then left them for 24 hours before re-tasting. All three are incredibly young, and they showed much better after being open a full day, when they started to calm down (relatively speaking).

I do appreciate these wines. I admire the guts and glory approach. In this weight division, Numanthia is a titleholder. And in these cold winter months, decanting one of these bad boys by the fire sounds great.

If you want to experience all the brute force, drink the Termes now. My personal preference would be to cellar them all for at least three years, the Termanthia much longer.

2011 Bodega Numanthia Termes Toro “Termes” - Spain, Castilla y León, Toro
Hugely extracted on the nose, with tons of blueberry pie, cedar, plum cake and some motor oil. Big and burly on the palate, with a dense mouthfeel, grippy tannins, low on the acid. Blueberry pie and Bordeaux cherries slathered with espresso, soil and smoke. Very hedonistic. Needs a lot of time because the tannins are fierce right now. (88 points)

2009 Bodega Numanthia Termes Toro “Numanthia” - Spain, Castilla y León, Toro
Dense on the nose, takes time to open up, but when it does it shows lots of deep red and black currants, blueberries, plum skins, ink, dark chocolate, violets and rose petals. Firm tannic structure, actually a bit of acid to combat against the density, but a very mouthfilling wine. The flavors of blueberry and currant jam are rich and lasting. Notes of caramel, roasted chestnuts, loamy soil, anise, magic marker and charred wood linger long onto the finish. Deep, long, complex, requires cellar time. From 50-year-old vines. (90 points)

2010 Bodega Numanthia Termes Toro “Termanthia” - Spain, Castilla y León, Toro
Brooding and intense, taking time to coax out the blueberry and currant jam, roasted figs and anise. I get more floral and iron notes on the nose than the other wines. Mouthfilling and extracted with granite tannins and some medium-to-low acid. Deep red and black berry fruits laced with notes of anise cookie, black licorice candies and cedar. A note on the finish like someone shaved dark chocolate and iron over a campfire. This is a behemoth of a wine, but beauty lies underneath. Bury this for a few presidents or decant it for — I don’t know — a week. From 120-year-old vines. (91 points)

Monday, January 26, 2015

On the DC Distilling Trail

Ivy City is littered with scrappy warehouses, pot-holed streets and, well, ivy, which climbs up abandoned buildings and wire fences. But this industrial neighborhood off New York Avenue in Northeast DC is home to a thriving scene: urban distilling.

Michael Lowe explains how Green Hat is made.
New Columbia Distillers kicked off the DC spirit buzz a few years ago with their Green Hat gin. (“DC Distiller Brings Spirit Back to the Capital”). Owner and founder Michael Lowe got bored with retirement after a career as an attorney, so he decided to open a distillery, which is located at 1832 Fenwick Street NE. After an apprenticeship in Washington State, he is proud to be at the helm of this “grain to glass” distillery. “We wanted to control the whole process,” he said, everything from the source of the raw ingredients to the final botanical blend.

Green Hat gin starts off with soft red winter wheat from Virginia — 1,200 pounds per batch of gin. Lowe uses a custom copper pot still from German maker Carl to distill their spirit. So far Green Hat has bottled two spirits. The “Spring/Summer” gin, their staple, is flavored with a blend of 12 botanicals. It has a really spicy and floral aroma, and a pleasant citrus and pepper twist on the palate. The “Fall/Winter” blend is a more intensely herbal gin, with less grapefruit and citrus peel and more spice, stemming from the addition of caraway, dill and star anise.

The standard gin works well with the classic citrus-dominated cocktails, a tonic, a fizz or a Tom Collins. I’d be happy to sip some of the winter blend on the rocks or perhaps mix up a martini with some vermouth and a stuffed olive.

Paying homage to the mid-Atlantic’s long history of producing rye whiskey, Green Hat will put out a District-made rye in the next year or two. Right now it’s sleeping in American white oak barrels, and Lowe said the tasting panel is waiting until it’s ready to bottle. A Navy strength gin is also in the works.

Green Hat Gin is currently distributed in DC, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, but Lowe hopes to expand beyond this central area. You can currently find Green Hat at lots of DC-area shops and restaurant bars. Tours and tastings are available on Saturdays from 1-4.

It's not ready yet, but I'm looking forward to trying Green Hat's next spirit, a whiskey made from Virginia rye.

When you visit, leave time for the second leg of the trip. Right around the corner, the folks at Ivy City’s second distillery, One-Eight, are also working on some white spirits. Apparently, the route to a DC distillery goes through the attorney’s office. One-Eight is also the product of an attorney-turned-distiller, Sandy Wood, who left law for spirits.

One-Eight derives its name from Article 1, Secion 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes DC as America’s capital city. Located at 1135 Okie Street NE, One-Eight has a great spot in a large brick building with a spacious tasting room, a long bar and a series of dining tables.

When I showed up during their Saturday tour and tasting, they were pouring two spirits, their District Made Vodka and Rock Creek White Whiskey. (Their Ivy City Gin was unavailable when I visited in late January, but will be available for tasting and purchase in February 2015.)

I’m not much of a vodka fan, but the One-Eight vodka is quite tasty and much more distinctive than your average mass-produced import. Made from corn, rye and malted rye, it shows a peppery kick on the finish. The Rock Creek White Whiskey (which is white because it isn’t aged in barrels) is made from rye grown in the surrounding states. It shows a rich and creamy body with flavors of malt and white pepper.

One-Eight opened to the public on January 10, but they’re already doing an excellent job connecting with locals. Open for tastings and tours on Saturdays from 1-4, the place was packed with interested guests during my visit.

If you’re hungry after sipping on some spirits, you can grab some food from one of the food trucks parked outside. And One-Eight has a lot more in store, including the release of a single malt whiskey, a bourbon and a barrel-aged rye.

If I was a bartender, I’d want all of these DC spirits on my bar. I’d come up with some DC-themed cocktails and spread the word that cocktail drinkers can go local.

We’ve yet to see DC’s full potential as a hub of urban distilling. Two more distilleries are slated to open in Ivy City this year alone.

We may not have voting rights in Congress, but DC spirits are alive and well. And it’s only going to get better.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Parallel 43 - Tasty Values from Bulgaria

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Bulgarian’s Thracian Valley is home to a wide array of wines that can be as impressive as they are inexpensive.

“It’s no longer that crap they used to sell to Russia by the millions,”
a Bulgarian vintner once told me.


I recently tasted through the lineup from a relatively new project called Parallel 43, a Virginia-based importer and wholesaler focused on promoting Bulgarian wines. It can’t be easy trying to convince consumers to drink Bulgarian Mavrud, but, for the adventurous and value-minded, there’s a lot to like coming out of the Thracian Valley.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2013 Parallel 43 Selections “Dreamy Wendy” - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $12
Pale lemon color with a slight spritz in the glass. Smells of white peach, rich apple, yellow pear and a hint of green herbs. Tangy and lip-smacking on the palate but a creamy body. Tangerine and white-peach dominated with just a hint of minerals. Zesty, fun, a middle-of-the-road style. 80% Chardonnay, 20% Sauvignon Blanc. (85 points)

2013 Parallel 43 Selections Syrah Rosé “Circulus” - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $12
Medium salmon color. Nose of red apple peel, wild strawberries, some mixed green herbs and some stony accents. Full-bodied and waxy on the palate (14.5% alcohol), but refreshing acid. I enjoy the strawberry and McIntosh apple-driven approach, along with the elements of white pepper and rose tea. Chalk and mineral notes on the finish. Crisp and clean but gutsy as well. I’m a big advocate of regional diversity in rose – the more the better – but this is impressive stuff. (88 points)

2012 Parallel 43 Selections Syrah “Quadratus” - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $12
Dark ruby color. Tart blueberries and blackberries on the nose, some violets, lavender and cracked pepper, but overall the nose needs time to open up. Solid tannic structure, some moderate acid, full body. Mulberries, blueberries and blackberries blend together, all of it tart and brisk. A mix of chestnut, loamy soil, graphite and sweet lavender add complexity, smoke and pencil lead on the finish. Tartness helps balance the 14.5% alcohol. I’m trying to come up with comparisons with other Syrahs, but they all fall flat. Could use two to four years. One of the more thought-provoking sub-$15 Syrahs I’ve tasted. (87 points)

2013 Parallel 43 Selections Cabernet Franc “Trianguli” - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $10
Medium purple color. Tart blueberries and raspberries on the nose, some pepper and sweet clove, with strong dusty elements. Solid, sturdy tannic structure on the palate, a bold presence. Bright blueberry and black currant fruit, some sweet teriyaki glaze as well as mushroom, earth and a bit of burned word. Surprised by the grip to this wine, but the acid is a bit low for my palate. The rare $10 wine that needs to be cellared for a while, I think. (85 points) 

2013 Parallel 43 Selections Mavrud “Trianguli” - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $15
Dark cherry colored. Deep and dark blackberry and plum fruit on the nose, along with an interesting mix of campfire, herbal liqueur, and a metallic and iron-like note. Medium-bodied with quite intense tannins and medium+ acid. The blackberry and blueberry fruit is rich and chewy, laced with smoke, beef jerky, granite and pencil lead. Lots of smoky, loamy, notes like floral incense sticks and heavy, wet soil. Complex, food-friendly because of its balance and freshness, but also rich. Lovely tartness and earthy flavors linger on the finish. (88 points)

Monday, January 19, 2015

New Short Fiction Published in Waypoints Magazine

From Unsplash.
It's been way too long since I've had some short fiction published. I've been so busy over the past year with my thesis project and wine writing that I've long ignored short fiction submissions.

But I'm proud to be a part of the inaugural issue of Waypoints Magazine with a new piece of short fiction called "It Fell Through."

It's a story about fear, claustrophobia, mid-20s depression, cowardice, newspaper reporting and a dilapidated mental institution.

Check it out here.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Adras: Screaming Value from Galicia

When it comes to $14 wine, it doesn't get much better.
Lately I’ve been enjoying some bottles from my personal collection. Generally, I’m on the lookout for interesting and unique wines that speak clearly of their place of origin. I also look for values, those bottles you can open without hesitation for friends or simple weeknight meals.

I recently tasted through two Galician wines — a white Godello and a red Mencia — that worked perfectly in this context. These wines come from the steep, rocky hills of the Mino and Sil Rivers in Northern Spain’s Ribeira Sacra region. Bottled under the “Adras” moniker, these wines are the product of winemaker and awesome-name-holder Isaac Fernandez.

I bought these for $14 apiece from Garagiste, a wine merchant that offers lots of deliciously quirky bottles through their emails. (These emails are informative, memorable and usually hilarious, so you should probably sign up for them right now.) 

While I enjoyed the Mencia more, I highly recommend both of these wines at $14 a bottle. That’s absurd value and an easy way to learn something new about two Spanish grapes from a relatively unknown region.

2012 Isaac Fernandez Selection Godello Ribeira Sacra “Adras” - Spain, Galicia, Ribeira Sacra
Light gold color. Love the burst of lime, minerals, white peach and flowers on the nose. I started salivating for the freshness just sniffing this wine. On the palate, this takes a clean and bright approach but shows moderate weight and moderate+ complexity. Flavors of nectarine, lime and white peach mix with some briny and oceanic elements. (A hint of almond and chive?) Chalky, some saline and honeyed tea aspects linger on the finish. Great for salads and apps, but I drank this with some Kung Pao shrimp and it actually worked well. No oak or maloactic fermentation, keeping this wine bright and clear. Made from 40-year-old Godello grapes grown in granite and sandy soils. (88 points)

2012 Isaac Fernandez Selection Mencía Ribeira Sacra “Adras” - Spain, Galicia, Ribeira Sacra
Vibrant ruby color. Bright red cherries and berries on the nose, with roses, sweet red licorice. Also an earthy streak on the nose and a Morgon-like combination of flowers, granite and loam. On the palate, tangy acid, dusty tannins, this is a tangy but forward wine with every kind of red fruit from currants to red apple peel. I love the deep sense of rocks and soil, mixed in with notes of sweet pipe tobacco and lots of roses. A bright personality, so attractive and food-friendly, yet complex. I actually think this could age for a while, and I’d like to retry it in three years. Wow. Old school, fresh and vibrant, a moderate 12.5% alcohol. This wine is made from Mencia grapes grown in granite and slate soils. (91 points)

Monday, January 12, 2015

It's Cold. Drink Zinfandel.

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

I know conventional wisdom is to pair Zinfandel with the grilled foods of summer. But Zinfandel also works perfectly for these short, cold days here in the mid-Atlantic. Sure these wines are rich and fruity, but the good ones provide a lot of other elements to contemplate. And when I pour a quality Zinfandel for my casual wine drinking friends, the results are near unanimous excitement.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind.

2013 Force of Nature Zinfandel Mossfire Ranch California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $23
Medium ruby colored. Smells like cranberry sauce and raspberry jam, add in some pepper, toasted oak and candied apples. Full and fruity on the palate, with some good tannic structure, a showing a bit more acid than the other selections. I like the super red fruity approach, like cranberry sauce and raspberry jam and strawberry shortcake topping. I also get some dusty, vanilla bean and coffee elements, white pepper and soy glaze. Juicy and ripe and fun but quite complex. 14.7% alcohol, aged in 20% new oak. (88 points)

2011 Grgich Hills Zinfandel - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $35
On the nose, I get a whole lot: black cherries, plums, roasted red peppers, bright red flowers and damp soil. On the palate, this wine is tart, bright and earthy. Currants and black cherries mixed in with rose hips, charcoal, black pepper, along with black licorice candy and cocoa powder. This wine evolves in the glass to a near absurd level, shifting an opening as air coaxes out all sorts of herbal, spice and crushed rock notes. It’s got something of everything I look for in a Zinfandel. (91 points)

2011 Artezin Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $25
Bright ruby color. Juicy and fruity on the nose, cherries, sweet strawberries, some cedar and pepper undertones. Smooth on the palate, with light tannins and medium acid. The red and black cherry fruit is ripe and plush, dusted with cedar, mocha and white pepper. Juicy but fresh, with a note of sweet chestnut on the finish. A fun, easy-drinking personality. (87 points)

2012 Artezin Zinfandel Mendocino County - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $18
Aromas of sweet berries, mocha and cocoa powder. On the palate, smooth tannin, fresh acid, lots of ripe berry and black cherry fruit. Notes of mocha and pecans. Smooth, juicy with rose petals on the finish. Fun stuff. (86 points)

2012 Paul Dolan Vineyards Zinfandel - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $25
A light purple color. Red currants and summer plums on the nose, I also get whiffs of red hot candies, some vanilla and black pepper. A rich wine but it presents itself well, with medium to strong tannins, some acid for freshness. The black cherry and plum fruit is tart and juicy, backed up by notes of spiced coffee, black pepper, roses, bell pepper and wood shavings. Finish shows solid length and complexity. Lots going on here for the price. (89 points)

2011 Amapola Creek Zinfandel Monte Rosso - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $42
Deep purple color. On the nose, I get some juicy black cherries and blueberries, some cola and mocha, a bit of heat. Velvety and rich with smooth tannins on the palate. The black cherries and blueberries are deep and concentrated, followed up with some red licorice, toasty oak, cedar and roasted chestnut. I get some earthy, smoky, charcoal notes on the finish. Tasty and rich, but unrestrained and very concentrated. 15.5% alcohol. (88 points)