Friday, October 31, 2014

Wines of Portugal: 3 Standout Wineries & Aged White Port

"The Gentleman did like a drop too much, 
(Tho’ there are many such) 
And took more Port than was exactly portable."
--Thomas Hood

As I've repeatedly said, I've heard the clarion call for the wines of Portugal, those intriguing wines which seduce with their tantalizing aromas and flavors. It is my desire that many others hear the summons of that clarion call too. To that end, I've become an ardent advocate for Portuguese wines, to share all the value, diversity and quality I have found in their wines.

During the first six months of 2014, exports of Portuguese wine to the U.S. have grown by 19.1%, up to 6.51 million liters, and Portugal is currently the 7th largest exporter to the U.S. As of October 1, 2014, export sales (excluding Port) increased to $19.5 million. This is all very good news but there is still plenty of room for continued growth. More people still need to understand the wonders of Portuguese wine, to sample the delights of their 250 indigenous grapes.

"I am only kept alive by frequent installments of mulled port wine."
--Thomas Hood

Part of the reason for the growth of Portuguese wines in the last two years has been a major promotional campaign in the U.S. by the Wines of Portugal “Wines of Portugal are extremely pleased with the consistent growth of the Portuguese wine category in the United States since the launch,” said Nuno Vale. “Based on the positive feedback received from trade and press over the past year, we are confident that consumers will want to further explore the incredible diversity of Portugal’s many premium offerings as awareness grows.”

Last week, the Wines of Portugal held a Grand Tasting of Portuguese wines for the trade, media and general public. They also held a seminar on the "50 Great Portuguese Wines," selected by Joshua Greene. To create this list, Joshua tasted about 600 Portuguese wines, and sought to choose wines which were accessible in the U.S., as well as to ensure diversity of the different wine regions. Master Sommelier Keith Goldston presided over the seminar, leading a blind tasting of eight wines, discussing indigenous grapes and talking about their wine industry.

Some of the interesting tidbits from his talk included:
  • "Crispiness" is a common Portuguese wine descriptor, referring to "acidity." Good acidity is typical of their wines and makes them food friendly.
  • Vintage Port is more important to the U.S. & UK rather than the Portuguese. To the Portuguese, Tawny Ports are their flagship as they are tougher to make consistently. Vintage Port is relatively easy to make. 
  • The Arinto grape is widely planted and is the backbone of crispiness. 
  • The Alvarinho grape is getting more popular, and is being seen more as a single varietal.
  • The Encruzado grape possesses lots of minerality.
  • The Jaen grape is known as Mencia in Spain, though more is grown in Portugal than in Spain.
  • Distribution of their wines in the U.S. is tough as they are spread out among many different distributors. There need to be more U.S. distributors who carry larger portfolios of Portuguese wines. 
At the Grand Tasting, there were over 30 wineries represented, and probably close to 200 wines available for tasting, including Sparkling, White, Rosé, Red and Ports. I found some old favorites there, like the 2010 Quinta dos Murças Reserva Red. There was plenty new to me as well, and much that was delicious and a good value. I've chosen to highlight three wineries from that tasting, two which produce Port, as they stood out the most to me at this event. However, there were plenty of worthy wines there, and there just wasn't enough time to carefully explore all of them.

The Quinta de Santa Eufemia was founded in 1864 by Bernardo Rodrigues de Carvalho and it is now managed by the 4th generation. Located on the left side of the Douro River, the vineyards occupy more than 45 hectares. They produce both table wines and Ports.

As for table wines, the 2012 Douro Colheita, which is unoaked, presents pleasant red fruit flavors with a spicy backbone and a hint of the exotic. Easy drinking and satisfying. Their 2010 Douro Reserva Red, which sees some barrel aging, presented with more black cherry and plum flavors, stronger tannins, a spicy accent and hints of leather. Bring on the beef, or another hearty dish, with this wine,

Their Ports were generally elegant and well balanced, presenting complex and delicious flavors. Their 2013 Rosé Port had delicious, bright red fruit flavors and a tinge of sweetness. I enjoyed both the 2009 Late-Bottled Vintage and the 2004 Colheita, seeing the progression in quality and complexity with the age. And the 10 Year Old Tawmy was one of the best in this class I have tasted in some time. The fortification was well integrated into the Port, and it possessed a more subtle sweetness, enhancing the complex melange of delectable flavors.

However, the most striking Port at their table was from a relatively new category, Aged White Port. Most White Port is consumed young, and may be drank mixed with tonic water and ice. However, some wineries are now producing Ports that have been aged 10, 20 and even 30 years. I tasted their 10 Year Old White Port (and they also make a 20 & 30 year old), which is a blend of Malvasia Fina, Gouveio, Moscatel Galego, and Rabigato. With a beautiful amber color, it possessed an alluring nose of floral and herbal notes, and on the palate the taste was complex and intriguing, a bit of an oxidative style. It had a tough of honeyed sweetness though it finished dry, and that finish lingers long in your mouth. It is surely a Port to slowly savor, enjoying the multitude of flavors that pass over your palate. I definitely need to explore more Aged White Port.

The Quinta do Portal is a bit of an oddity in the Port world, as it is one of the few Port Houses that is actually owned by a Portuguese family. Started by Eugenio Branco and his sons, Joao and Pedro Mansilha, they started amassing their Port stock in 1974. All of their vineyards are in the Pinhao Valley, and until 1994, they only made Port. On the front of their Port bottles is an open doorway, signifying that you are being welcomed in, and the back of the bottle is a closed doorway, stopping you from leaving. They want you to stay and enjoy their Ports.

The Fine Ruby Porto is an easy drinking Port with plenty of bright red fruit flavors. Smooth in the mouth, it has a sweet, fruity taste and a moderately long finish. Very pleasant. The 2008 Late-Bottled Vintage provides more depth of flavor, though still with delicious red fruit flavors and some spicy accents. Both are still young Ports, well balanced and tasty.

Their aged Ports show the fine quality of this winery. The 10 Year Old Tawny Port is nicely balanced, and the fortification is well integrated. There are plenty of tasty fruit flavors, both red and black fruits, though there are also notes of caramel and nuts in the background. There is ample complexity on the palate and it is an impressive Port. One of my top favorites of the Grand Tasting though was their 20 Year Old Tawny. With a light amber color, it was pure bliss. An alluring and complex aroma married to an intriguing melange of flavors. It was silky smooth with a lengthy and very satisfying finish.It's difficult to describe this Port in words as it is something that needs to be experienced. Highly recommended!

The Quinta do Abrigueiros has been in existence since the 17th century and now the 10th generation is operating the winery. It is located in the valley of the Lima River, in the northern part of Portugal, between the villages of Ponte de Lima and Arcos de Valdevez. They produce the Casa Da Senra brand.

Not yet available in the market, but hopefully soon that will change, the 2013 Casa da Senra Loureiro Vinho Verde was a stellar wine, especially as it should only cost about $10! With a bright golden color, this wine was dry and crisp, with a complex blend of citrus, tropical fruit and herbal notes. A slight effervescence made it even more refreshing, and it had a long,pleasing finish. It possessed lots of character for a wine at this low price point, making it one of the most compelling Vinho Verde wines I've tasted in some time. Highly recommended.

"And being fond of Port, he made
A port-hole of his mouth!"
--Thomas Hood

TasteCamp At Hudson Valley: Worthy Wines

The primary objective of TasteCamp is to explore the wines of a region, though the event has evolved to include beers, spirits and food. As such, we had the opportunity to taste numerous wines produced in the Hudson Valley region, during winery visits and grand tastings. At these events, the wineries are usually limited in how many wines they can showcase, so they generally offer us what they believe to be the best of what they produce. We thus see the potential of the region, understanding that not all of the wines in this region will reach the quality of what we taste.

As I mentioned previously, overall, the Hudson Valley wine region is not as developed as that of Long Island or the Finger Lakes. It is still seeking its identity, trying to determine which grapes grow best and expanding their vineyards. Their wine making experience continues to develop and evolve, as each harvest allows them to learn more and more. Despite its lengthy wine making history,it is still a relatively new region in a number of respects. Some very good wines are being produced in the Hudson Valley, and I believe more and more quality wines will be made in the near future

A significant number of wines we tasted were produced from grapes not grown in the Hudson Valley. The grapes were usually sourced from Long Island or the Finger Lakes, and the wines were labeled as "New York State." The harsh winters of the Hudson Valley cause difficulties in growing a number of grapes, and wineries are still learning which grapes will succeed. Some hybrid grapes,which are cold resistant, do well. As for vinifera, the hardy Cabernet Franc also does well in the region, and several of my favorite wines from TasteCamp were made from Cabernet Franc.

I enjoyed some of the wines made from non-Hudson Valley grapes, indicative of the skill of the wine makers, but I generally prefer wines made from grapes of the local region. There is plenty of passion in the Hudson Valley, and a deep thirst to produce excellent wine. It will be fascinating to revisit this region in five years, to see how it has grown and developed, and what changes have occurred.

Our first winery visit was to Millbrook Winery, which is owned by John Dyson, a former State Commissioner of Agriculture who helped to pass the Farm Winery Bill in 1976. In 1979, he initially purchased the estate just to save it as an agricultural property but he later decided to plant grapes, experimenting with about 30-40 varieties. John also owns wineries in California (William Selyem and Vista Verde) and Italy (Villa Pillo).

The Millbrook estate consists of about 130 acres, with about 38 planted with vineyards, and their first vintage was in 1985. Their grapes include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc (planted since 1979), Tocai Friiulano (planted since the 1980s), Riesling, Traminette, Gamay and more. They have good drainage with their pea gravel soil and their primary challenge is the weather, as rain moisture can cause fungus and mildew. This year, they are only about 1 to 1.5 weeks behind on their usual harvest time. They had just picked their Tocai Friulano the week before TasteCamp.

They produce 10K-14K cases annually and their top seller is their Chardonnay. In the 1980s and early 1990s, they had Riesling plantings and chose only to make a Dry Riesling. It didn't sell well as customers wanted sweet Rieslings at that time so they removed the Riesling vines. They recently started replanting the Riesling, trying to sell Dry Riesling again, and this time it has done very well. Pinot Noir is tough for them to grow and they rarely have a good year. They also have a problem as deer love to eat the Pinot grapes. On the other hand, Tocai Friulano is very prolific and they usually must cut it back. They are the only grower of Tocai in the Hudson Valley.

Their winemaker, John Graziano (pictured above) has been making wines for Millbrook since the beginning,

They make both estate wines as well as "New York State" wines, with fruit from Long Island and the Finger Lakes. They are trying to build their brand in Connecticut and Massachusetts, though it is not an easy task.

We got to taste four of their estate wines, including three whites and a red. The 2013 Tocai Friulano Proprietors Special Reserve, which sees no oak, was crisp and delicious with pleasant flavors of exotic fruit, like lychee, and herbs. It was one of my favorite white wines of TasteCamp, and I bought a couple bottles to take home. The 2013 Dry Riesling Proprietors Special Reserve was aromatic and dry, with a satisfying blend of melon, citrus and floral notes.  The 2012 Chardonnay Proprietors Special Reserve , which sees no oak, was crisp and clean with flavors of green apple, nutty notes and an underlying minerality. The 2012 Cabernet Franc Proprietors Special Reserve was herbal and spicy, with pleasant black fruit flavors and moderate tannins.

We later drove to the Robibero Family Vineyards for a Grand Tasting of Hudson Valley wines. The Robibero family purchased the 42 acre estate in 2003, and there was already a working winery on the land. In 2007, that winery decided to move, and the Robibero family decided to produce their own wine. They only have a one-acre vineyard on their land, though they are preparing to plant more vineyards soon. Their annual production is about 2000 cases and most of their wines are labeled as  "New York State," though they hope to create estate wines in the future.\

Their 2013 Arctic Riesling uses grapes from the Finger Lakes. "Arctic Riesling" is the name of the clone and create a nontraditional Riesling,and if you taste it, you might find it tough to identify as a Riesling. Aged for 8 months in neutral oak, it is dry and crisp with delicious fruit flavors of pear and pineapple, Though it doesn't use Hudson Valley fruit, it was an interesting wine worthy of note.

The Brimstone Hill Vineyard, which was founded in 1969, currently has 14 acres of vineyards and grows about 20 varieties. Their 2012 Cabernet Franc was impressive, with an alluring aroma and a tasty blend of black fruits and spice, with an earthy accent. It had a lengthy and pleasing finish, well integrated tannins and plenty of complexity.

The Benmarl Winery is located on the site of a vineyard that dates back to the 18th century. In 1957, the Miller family bought the property, renamed it Benmarl, and planted more grapes. In 2006, the Spaccarelli family bought Benmar, replanting abandoned vineyards and refurbishing the winery. Their 2012 Benmarl Cabernet Franc was big and bold, with plenty of spice, a rustic earthiness and ripe plum flavors. Cabernet Franc certainly seems to do very well in the Hudson Valley.

Whitecliff Vineyard is one of the largest estates in the Hudson Valley, with 70 acres of vineyards growing over 20 grape varieties. They try to make more European style wines. The 2008 Cabernet Franc was a compelling wine, with elegance and complexity. Well integrated tannins, an intriguing melange of flavors, and a lingering finish. This wine, as it is six years old, provides a little indication of the potential of aging. This was one of the best wines I tasted all weekend during TasteCamp.

The Victory View Vineyard was established in 2008 and released their first wines in August 2013. The 2012 Lafayette is made from Marechal Foch, and had a delicious taste of spice, blueberry, and ripe cherry with some leather on the finish. A very easy drinking wine, and an excellent example of this hybrid grape.

Brookview Station Winerylocated at Goold Orchards, a 3rd generation farm, was established in 2006. Their 2011 Frontenac is a light and easy drinking wine, with plenty of juicy red fruit and ripe plum, and spicy notes on the finish. Quite tasty.

Some of the most unusual wines at TasteCamp were from Pazdar Winery, and though some attendees may disagree, I think the winery deserves recognition for their creations. They create fruit wines, chocolate wines, sweet wines, hot pepper wines and more. In some ways, they are doing what craft beer producers have been doing for years. Though it might seem easy to dismiss them, you really need to taste some of what they make. These are wines made with natural flavors, from cocoa he grinds himself to habaneros from his garden. They lack any artificial taste, which plagues similar products from other producers.

The Eden's Pleasure is supposed to have been the first commercially produced chocolate wine in the world; It is a blend of white wine and natural flavors, and has an alluring nose of strong cocoa. On the palate, it has a tasty chocolate flavor, with hints of banana, and surprised me with its quality. Frankly, it is the best chocolate wine I think I've ever tasted, and I'm sure it would appeal to many consumers.
The Chocolata Amor is made from red wine, chocolate and spice, and is based on an ancient Aztec recipe. It takes like Mexican Hot chocolate with its spices and hints of red berries. Another interesting chocolate wine. The Hot Sin is a sweet dessert wine with s spicy kick and strong cinnamon notes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

TasteCamp At Hudson Valley: Cider

"In early eighteenth-century New England, the most popular alcoholic drink, in terms of volume, was locally produced cider. Throughout much of this period, cider served as a currency. It was used to pay salaries and product prices could be quoted in barrels of cider."
--Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol by Iain Gately

When Europeans settled in America, apples were one of the first crops they introduced to the country. It is believed that the first cultivated apple trees were planted in the region which would eventually become Boston, as early as 1623. Apple trees spread through the colonies and by 1647, apples were grafted onto wild native rootstocks. A significant proportion of those apples ended up being made into hard cider. By 1775, about 10% of the farms in New England owned and operated their own cider mills.

Until Prohibition, the Hudson Valley region was the unofficial headquarters for hard apple cider. However, Prohibition wrought significant changes to the orchards of the Hudson. As cider apples are usually very sour and not great for eating, many farmers chose to replant their orchards with eating apples. Once Prohibition ended, not much changed and recently, from 2002 to 2007, the number of apple orchards in the Hudson decreased by about 25%. However, change is in the air once again and this time the change is beneficial for hard cider.

As you may know, the state fruit of New York is the apple, and it is also the second largest producer of apples in the country, with Washington occupying first place. Michigan, Pennsylvania and California take the next three spots. New York though grows more varieties of apples than any other state.

In the last few years, the Hudson Valley region has seen a resurgence of apple cideries. In 2001, there were only about five cideries in the region and that number has now grown to 23. This was helped by a new law, passed in 2013, that allowed farms to operate cideries, offering them tax breaks and other economic benefits. With the growing popularity of hard cider across the country, Hudson is poised to benefit from this growing trend.

During TasteCamp, we had the opportunity to sample hard ciders from numerous cideries, and overall I was pleased with what I tasted. They generally were produced from New York apples, not juice, and most tended to be more dry than sweet. There was also some intriguing experimentation being done by some of the cideries, a willingness to expand what cider could be.

The first Hudson Valley hard cider I tasted during Taste Camp was the Dry Hard Cider (750ml/$11.99) from Bad Seed Cider, located in Highland, New York. Founded in 2011, the cidery was started by Albert, a 6th generation apple farmer, and Devin, a brewer and fermenter. Their apples are from Wilklows Orchards, a 60 acre estate located close to the cidery. For their cider, they use 100% fresh pressed apples, with a Winesap apple as the base and a mix of other varieties added into the base. It is made in small batches and is unfiltered. The Dry Hard Cider, with a 6.3% ABV, is very dry, with dominant apple flavors, and a light effervescence. It is refreshing and tasty, the type of dry cider I prefer. They also make a Belgian Abbey Cider and Bourbon Barrel Reserve, though I didn't get a chance to taste them.

The origins of this cider are a bit vague, and online searches have uncovered some different information. The Peconic Bat Winery, located on Long Island, created The Standard Cider Company to produce their True Believer Hard Cider brand. I've seen reports that they have sourced their apples from Long Island, the Finger Lakes and the Hudson Valley. It seems the latest info may be that they are now sourcing from the Hudson, creating their True Believer from a blend of five eating apples, including Cameo, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Fuji and Granny Smith. They do not apparently use any cider apples.

The True Believer, with a 7% ABV, is lightly sweet with fruity apple flavors, a medium effervescence, and some spice notes, especially on the finish. It lacks the tartness you often find in cider made with cider apples. The True Companion, also with a 7% ABV, is made with natural ginger, and that ginger aroma and taste is very strong, with fruity apple notes beneath the ginger. If you love ginger, this cider would appeal to you.

The Applewood Winery was founded in 1993, but siince the 1950s,the farm had substantial apple orchards, and they now produce both wine and hard cider. They make three different types of hard cider, under the Naked Flock label, including the Original, Draft and Pumpkin. About 2.74 pounds of apples go into every bottle of their cider. I only tasted their Draft, which is made to be a drier style, with Belgian Trappist Ale yeast and organic Maple syrup. The cider was generally dry and crisp, with only a hint of sweetness, and a rich apple taste and a fuller body. There was also a few spicy accents in the cider, almost fleeting flavors. An interesting and satisfying taste.

Some of the most interesting ciders were produced by Aaron Burr Cider, located in Wurtsboro, New York. Their small farm dates back to the 19th century and Aaron Burr was once the executor of their land, which is part of the reason for their name. They grow only cider apples, and use only foraged fruit, making them very different from the other cideries. They also wanted to replicate the ciders from the past, what they were like when cider was the most dominant drink of the region, and that is another reason they chose a name from the past for their brand.. In 2013, they produced about 9 different ciders, and most of them will age well, generally from 2-5 years.

The 2013 Homestead Cider: Neversink Highlands is produced from unsprayed wild and abandoned apples and crab apples from various east Sullivan County locations. It has a 7.6% ABV, and is very dry and crisp, with an intriguing and complex blend of flavors, from tart apple to some earthy notes. It possesses plenty of effervescence, and has a lengthy finish adding some dark spice notes. Highly recommended.

The 2013 Homestead Cider: Shawagunk Ridge is produced from unsprayed wild apples from various Bloomingburg/ Otisville area homesteads. It has a 7.6% ABV, and is semi-dry with nice acidity,and once again, a complex blend of flavors including tart apple but also some minerality.,On the finish, there were some pleasing herbal notes. This is a very good cider but I personally preferred the Neversink flavor profile.

The 2013 Homestead Perry is made from true perry pears from unsprayed wild trees along the upper Neversink River, Dry, with mild tannins and restrained pear flavors, this was a more elegant cider with a mild effervescence. On the finish, there were some floral and honey notes. An interesting taste, and I was glad to see at least one Perry during TasteCamp.

The most unusual cider was probably the 2013 Appinette, which is a blend of 70% apples (Idared, Russets and Spy) and 30% Traminette grapes. On the nose, it had Muscat aromas and it tasted to me like an apple-flavored, sparkling Gewurztraminer. Though that sounds strange, I actually found it interesting and likable. It straddles the line between cider and wine, but if you want to taste something different, though still tasty, give this a try.

The Hudson-Chatham Winery makes Olde Orchard Sparkling Apple Wine, which cannot be labeled as a hard cider as it has a 10.7% ABV. However, it drinks like a cider, with a very dry and crisp taste, tart apple flavors, a mild effervescence, and some subtle herbal notes. A very pleasing taste, it pairs well with food and would be a refreshing drink on a summer day.

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1) The Met Back Bay is once again launching its “Boston Hot Chocolate Experience” featuring Taza Chocolate on Friday, November 28. Now in its second year, the Boston Hot Chocolate Experience is presented in a flight of four miniature glasses for $14 and hosts four distinct flavors for chocolate lovers.

Each flavor can be upgraded to an “adult version” with additions like, Bailey’s White Chocolate, XO Patron, Amaretto and White Crème de Menthe (+$4). If hot cocoa lovers find that they are in the mood for just one, Met Back Bay has that covered. Customers can order any flavor as the “One Big One” presentation for $10. The Boston Hot Chocolate Experience will be available beginning Friday, November 28 and will continue until spring 2015.


--Classic Hot Chocolate (Taza Vanilla Chocolate, whipped cream, mini toasted marshmallows)
Make it grown up – Spike it! Liquor it up! (Bailey’s White Chocolate)
--Mexican Hot Chocolate (Taza Cinnamon Chocolate, whipped cream, cinnamon stick, grated Taza Guajillo Chili Chocolate)
Make it grown up - Spike it! Liquor it up! (xo Patron)
--Salted Almond Hot Chocolate (Taza Salted Almond Chocolate, whipped cream, almond biscotti)
Make it grown up - it! Liquor it up! (Amaretto)
--Peppermint Hot Chocolate (Taza Cacao Puro Chocolate, peppermint, whipped cream & candy cane)
Make it grown up - Spike it! Liquor it up! (White Crème de Menthe)

2) Waffle tots? Yes, you have my attention. TAMO Bistro & Bar is introducing some new items in their new menu’s that sound pretty interesting, including:

--Waffle Tots (Potatoes, Jalapenos, Pepper Jack Cheese, Bacon $10)
--Candied Bacon (Crusted with Brown Sugar, Chipotle Powder, Cayenne and 5 Spice Powder $6)
--Chicken Pot Pie Roll (Local Chicken, Carrots, Turnips, Herbs, Pepper Jack Cheese, Béchamel, Puff Pastry $10)

   I haven't sampled any of these items yet, but they sound good. Have any of my readers sampled these treats yet?

3) This holiday season, during November and December, Boston diners can give meaningfully with as little as a $1 donation at area restaurants through Hearth Shares, a local fundraising initiative to end homelessness. The program offers restaurant goers the opportunity to add a voluntary donation of $1 or more to their bill. Supported by the Citizens Bank Foundation, 100% of proceeds from Hearth Shares will benefit Hearth, Friends of Boston’s Homeless and a select group of other nonprofits working to end homelessness in the Boston community.

Boston Chefs and Restaurateurs Ming Tsai, Chris Douglass, Jeffrey Gates, Jeff Fournier, Tiffani Faison, Jamie Mammano and many others have signed on to support Hearth Shares at their restaurants. They follow in the footsteps of Fergus Henderson, Gordon Ramsay, Angela Hartnett and Ashley Palmer-Watts who support the program’s London counterpart, StreetSmart in their restaurants. Since 1998, StreetSmart has raised over $10 million for homeless programs in London and has over 500 participating restaurants.

Participating restaurants in Greater Boston include 51 Lincoln, Aquitaine Boston, Chestnut Hill & Dedham, Ashmont Grill, Battery Park, Beat Hotel, The Beehive, Blue Dragon, Blue Ginger, Brasserie Jo, Cinquecento, Gaslight Brasserie, L’andana, Lolita, Metropolis Café, Mistral, Mooo, No. 8 Kitchen & Spirits, Ostra, Sorellina, Sweet Cheeks, Tavolo, Teatro, Union Bar & Grille, Waban Kitchen.

Every time you dine & donate at a participating Hearth Shares restaurant let Hearth Shares know about it on Facebook or Twitter (@HearthShares) by posting a photo of your experience with hashtag #sharingseason and tagging Hearth Shares and the restaurant. The follower with the most Hearth Shares visits will win a winter staycation at The Colonnade Hotel.

4) New England Patriots Pro Football Hall of Famer and current VP of Community Affairs for the team, Andre Tippett and Tyler Campbell, the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell, will host the Flavors of New England, sponsored by BIOGEN IDEC, on Saturday, November 8, from 7pm-11pm. at the Seaport Boston Hotel.

The fun-filled event will offer guests the opportunity to mingle with NFL stars and celebrities and enjoy entertainment and a fantastic auction. The Pro Player Foundation in partnership with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society will host Flavors of New England to raise funds and awareness for MS while showcasing the mouthwatering cuisine of various talented chefs for which the city has become known. Pro Football Hall of Fame legend Randall McDaniel will be in attendance to lend support for the National MS Society’s goal of raising funds and awareness in order to end MS forever.

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007 while playing football at San Diego State University, Tyler Campbell refuses to let the disease stop him from moving his life forward. A successful businessman, husband and new father, Tyler views his diagnosis as a blessing. Tyler now serves as an Ambassador for the Pro Player Foundation and for the National MS Society and is on a mission to help other people with the disease, especially those facing the uncertainty of the future of their education due to MS. Tyler hosts Flavors of the Gaslamp and Flavors of Austin, with his father, in addition to the New England event.

Former Patriots tight end and local radio host, Jermaine Wiggins and former Patriots defensive end, Jarvis Green, will be joining in on the fun and supporting their football teammates at the event as well.

Flavors of New England will feature some of the city’s most renowned restaurants and chefs, including: Bistro du Midi, Davio’s, Fuji at Kendall, Grill 23 and Bar, O Ya, Oak Long Bar + Kitchen, Silvertone Bar and Grill, Stella, Stephi’s in Southie, Stoked Pizza Co., Waterfront Grille, Brasserie Jo, Fairsted Kitchen, Chopps American Bar and Grill, and Dom’s. Dessert will be provided by Harvest, Sweet Cupcakes, and Ben & Jerry’s.

The mission of the Pro Player Foundation is to serve the community by creating special events and projects that raise awareness and funding for Multiple Sclerosis. To learn more about Flavors of New England and its NFL partners, please visit

COST: Tickets can be purchased for $195 each at

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

TasteCamp At Hudson Valley: Spirits

After our TasteCamp tour and tasting at the Hillrock Estate Distillery, there was also a small tasting of spirits from a number of other Hudson Valley distilleries. Due to time constraints, I wasn't able to taste samples from all of the attending distilleries. I'm going to highlight some of the products I tasted, though know that there are numerous other worthy spirits being produced in the Hudson Valley. As the craft distillery movement grows, you'll likely see more and more distilleries open in this region.

I should note that those with a Farm Distillery License in New York must use at least 71% New York ingredients in their spirits, making them very much a local product. Other states with similar farm or craft distillery licenses also may require a significant portion of the ingredients come from the home state, though the percentage varies. For example,Washington only requires 51% of the ingredients to be from within the state.

Golden Harvest Farms is a third generation farm, located in Valatie, New York, that has 200 acres of apple orchards and grows a variety of other fruits and vegetables too. They started Harvest Spirits to produce a variety of local spirits using their excess fruit. Spirits were a product that they could create that had a lengthy shelf life, unlike cider or donuts. They are still a small operation, producing about seven different spirits that total about 1500 cases annually. Overall, they are making some intriguing fruit-based spirits, with clean, natural flavors.

Their Core Vodka is made from apples! They distill hard cider three times, using about 60 pounds of apple per 750ml bottle, and do not add any sugar or other additives. It definitely tasted like apple vodka, with a clean, natural and dry taste. It was intriguing, and I could see using it in cocktails. It would be much better than some artificially flavored apple vodka. They also make a Black Raspberry Vodka, which is their most expensive spirit at $35 because fresh blackberries are so expensive. The raspberries are macerated in their Core Vodka and then redistilled with a bit of raspberry juice added. The raspberry flavor stood out strongly, with more subtle apple notes beneath.

The Cornelius Applejack, maybe the first made in New York, is produced from distilling their hard cider, pressed in an antique apple press, twice in small batches. Applejack was a popular drink during the Colonial period, with a much stronger alcohol content than hard cider. The Cornelius tries to replicate this historic spirit, and it has an alcohol content of 40%, was aged for 2 years in 50 gallon ex-bourbon casks and then finished in 15 gallon quarter casks. Accompanying its dominant apple taste, there are notes of vanilla, caramel, and mild spice, with a smooth, lengthy finish. Very tasty and intriguing.

The Cornelius Peach Flavored Brandy is a kind of "Peach Jack," produced from peaches soaked in their Applejack. After a time, it is strained and aged in the barrel for about three years. I enjoyed the rich peach flavor with the apple accents, complemented by some vanilla and spices hints, especially on the finish. The Rare Pear Brandy, made from Bosc & Bartlett pears, is distilled twice and aged for 2 years in charred American oak. It was dry and floral, with strong peach flavors, spicy accents and a smooth taste.

The Cornelius Cherry Flavored Brandy is a kind of "Cherry Jack," produced from Bing cherries in their Applejack. After a time, it is strained and aged for a year in quarter casks. The cherry flavors were clean and sweet, and the apple notes were more prominent than in the Peach Brandy. There were some subtle spice notes along with a vanilla streak.

The Millbrook Distillery saw its origins when the Coughlin family purchased the Rolling Hills Farm in Stanfordville, New York. Together, Paul Coughlin and Gerald Valenti founded the distillery, using the corn and grains from the farm as well as natural spring water to produce whiskey. Their first product is the Dutchess Private Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey (about $40), which is made with a mashbill with 21%-25% rye. It had a pleasant bourbon taste, plenty of caramel, vanilla, spice and hints of citrus, with a nice sweetness to it. A smooth, easy drinking bourbon. In the near future, the distillery will also release a Barrel Strength Whiskey and a Founder's Rye Whiskey.

One of the newest distilleries in the Hudson Valley is Denning's Point Distillery, owned by Karl Johnson who opened an urban facility in Beacon, New York. They use Hudson Valley grains, and malt from the Finger Lakes region, to produce their spirits. Their Viskill Vodka is made from 100% wheat, and has a light, clean and smooth taste with a small bite on the finish. The Beacon Whiskey, made from a 100% corn mashbill, was sweet, with some caramel and vanilla notes. Their initial products show some potential, so I am intrigued to see how this new distillery develops.

The Harvest Homestead Farm, a 400 acre farm located a mile from the town center of Pine Plains, New York, has been in the family of Alex Adams for about 80 years. On the farm, a secret distillery was found, which once was a bootlegging operation for the infamous Dutch Schultz. The distillery operation had been shut down in 1932 when it was raided by federal agents. Six years ago,Alex Adams and his friend Ariel Schlein decided to start their own distillery, though a legal one, and founded Dutch's Spirits.

The Sugar Wash Moonshine was inspired by the "white lightning" once produced by Dutch Schultz. It is a 100% Cane Neutral Spirit produced in small batches from pure Demerara sugar. It is a silky smooth spirit with a mild sweetness, and subtle flavor of herbs, vanilla and butterscotch. An interesting spirit, and they also served some in a cocktail with apple cider and bitters, and that really worked well. I could see this spirit being a nice addition to your home bar. Their Peach Brandy, made from peaches from the Finger Lakes, is made in a traditional 19th century style. It is aged in toasted American oak, and presents a pleasant brandy taste, with dominant peach flavors enhanced with some spice and caramel notes.

TasteCamp At Hudson Valley: Hillrock Estate Distillery

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough."
--Mark Twain

Bourbon from the Hudson Valley of New York? Doesn't Bourbon only come from Kentucky?

Though some people believe that Bourbon can only be produced in Kentucky, that is actually incorrect. About 95% of all Bourbon is made in Kentucky but you'll also find Bourbon legally made across the country, in places including Indiana, Utah, Wisconsin and New York. In 1964, Congress passed a resolution, stating bourbon was a "distinctive product of the U.S." granting the term legal protection. This is akin to the protection granted to wine terms like Champagne, Sherry and Port, so that Bourbon can only be legally produced within the U.S.

What legally constitutes a bourbon? According to the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, 27 C.F.R. 5.22(b)(1)(i), there are several basic, legal requirements for a spirit to be declared a "bourbon." First, it must be produced from a fermented mash of at least 51% corn. Second, it must be distilled at not more than 160 proof. Third, the final product cannot be more than 125 proof. Fourth, it must be aged in charred, new oak containers. There is no restriction that it must be produced in Kentucky.

While attending TasteCamp in the Hudson Valley, I sampled a Solera-Aged Bourbon which thoroughly impressed me. Besides the Bourbon, I sampled two other whiskies, a Peated Single Malt and a Rye, and they too were impressive. The story and philosophy behind these whiskies is fascinating and compelling, an intriguing tale of "field to glass" and terroir. Tradition is respected and emulated in a number of respects. This is not a simple craft distillery but one seriously dedicated to producing a special type of whiskey. And there is clear passion at work. This is a distillery that all whiskey lovers need to know.

We toured the Hillrock Estate Distillery, located in Ancram, New York, and our host was Jeff Baker (pictured above), the owner of the estate. He was personable and earnest, leading us through the malt house and distillery, telling us the history of the estate as well as explaining their production process. It was a fascinating insight into this craft distillery, and my respect for their operation increased through the tour.

Back in the 1820s, New York produced about two-thirds of the country's barley and rye, and the Hudson Valley was home to many such farms. Because of all this grain, over 1000 distilleries opened, creating a variety of spirits, though Prohibition would close their doors. Nowadays, we are seeing a craft distillery revival across the country, and a number of new distilleries have opened in the Hudson Valley region. It is still only the tiniest fraction of what once existed there, but it continues to grow and evolve.

In 1995, Jeff purchased the land which would become the Hillrock estate, and now encompasses over 250 tillable acres. Initially, he began the region's first, pasture-raised, sustainable beef operation. He restored a 1806 Georgian house on the property that once had been owned by a Revolutionary War Captain who was also a grain farmer and Freemason. Eventually, he decided he wanted to produce whiskey, so he constructed a distillery, malt house, granary and barrel house, locating all of them at the center of the estate, About four years ago, they started making whiskey.

It is important to Jeff that they try to produce "field to glass" whiskey, which is reflective of the terroir of their estate. As such, they grow all of their own grains organically, including winter rye, barley and corn. As about 90% of U.S. corn is GMO, Jeff has ensured that they grow sufficient non-GMO corn for their purposes. That is an important factor to numerous people. Harvesting is conducted from individual fields and the amount of the yield takes second place to the quality of the yield.

As they began to produce whiskey from their grains, they soon learned that their whiskies possessed distinctive notes of clove and cinnamon, indicative of the terroir of their estate. This is exactly what Jeff hoped for, that their products would be reflective of the land, water and climate of their estate. He didn't know what flavor profile that might entail until their whiskey production begun. As such, you should detect clove and cinnamon in all of their whiskies.

Most people are familiar with hearing about terroir and wine, and may also have heard the term used with certain foods too, such as cheese and tomatoes. However, some spirits can evidence terroir and I've written before about this issue. It has been said that terroir is an opportunity and the choices that are made in the production process can obscure and eliminate terroir. Not all spirits show terroir, but Hillrock is making positive choices intended to lead to their whiskies reflecting the terroir of their estate.
For their peated whiskey, Jeff has been importing Scotch peat but he has been actively seeking a local source. Unfortunately, what he has found so far have been part of protected wetlands, so inaccessible to him, but his search continues. Finding local peat sources is an issue for other whiskey distilleries in the U.S. too. I recently wrote about the Westland Distillery in Washington who were able to purchase a 60 acre peat bog though they haven't yet produced any whiskies using this peat. If Hillrock can find a local source of peat, they can enhance the terroir of their whiskey.

Another important element contributing to the terroir of their whiskey is their malting process, where they release some of the starch in their grains through a partial germination. What makes Hillrock more unique is that they have their own "one man malt house," and they may be the only distillery in the U.S. to have one. Most distilleries and brewers across the world purchase malt from commercial malters rather than make their own. Even only a few Scotch distilleries make their own malt. It is a labor intensive process, so many have found it much easier to sinply buy their malt elsewhere.

However, creating your own malt will contribute to the sense of terroir of your product. As I already mentioned, choices made in the production process have the ability to obscure terroir. The more you produce on your own, the more terroir can be reflected in the final product. It is clear that the malt they produce at Hillrock will be very different from whatever malt they could buy from a commercial malter. Few whiskey distilleries are willing to go so far, to have their own malt house, so it is indicative of a serious dedication.

In the floor malting process, barley is soaked in water and then spread out over the floor to start germination. It will remain on the floor for about two to three days and must be raked, to stir and aerate the barley, every six to eight hours for about thirty minutes. While we were viewing the malt house, two men were raking the barley. Jeff mentioned to us that all of the barley we saw would eventually be used to produce about $60,000 of whiskey.

After two to three days, the grain will be sent through a hatch in the floor and down into a kiln (pictured above). The grain will then be smoked and toasted over the course of about three days, and we got to taste some of the barley, which had a nutty and smoky taste.

There is no such thing as a bad whisky. Some whiskies just happen to be better than others.
--William Faulkner

Hillrock uses a variety of different oak barrels for whiskey maturation, including some small barrel aging, and Jeff noted that barrels may be their greatest expense. Interestingly, they are storing away about 80% of their production for extended aging. That is a significant investment, which hopefully will pay off sometime in the future, as well as a sign of confidence. They could easily sell much more whiskey now, recouping more of their investment, but instead they have chosen to think long term. Fortunately, they have the resources to store and age all of those barrels and I am eager to return to Hillrock in the future to sample those longer aged whiskies.

Their production level is low, and they only produce about one 30-gallon barrel per day, making about 60,000 bottles (5,000 cases) annually. This is a minuscule amount, especially compared to a major company like Makers Mark, which shipped 1.4 Billion cases last year. Even the annual production of the rare Pappy Van Winkle bourbon whiskey is still 7000 to 8000 cases. Currently, most of the Hillrock production is sold within the Northeast region, though they hope to one day expand to the West Coast and even Europe.

The logo of the distillery has the phrase "aqua vitae" which means "water of life," referring to whiskey. The term "whisky" originated from an ancient Gaelic term, "uisge beatha," which also means "water of life."

The two dogs, Australian sheep dogs, on the logo are Jeff's dogs. Pictured above is Storm is on the left and Shadow on the right. They accompanied us into the malt house.

We spent a little time in the distilling room, learning about the process, and getting to see some of the equipment in operation.

This 250 gallon copper pot still was built by by Vendome Copper & Brass Works in Kentucky. Everything is still shiny and new-looking.

At the end of our tour, it was time for some whiskey tasting. Dave Pickerell (pictured above) is their Master Distiller, and he previously spent 14 years working at Maker's Mark. Dave also runs Oak View Consulting, assisting a number of other distilleries, such as Whiskey Pig and George Washington's Distillery. He is nationally recognized as a whiskey expert, and his services are sought out by many distilleries. He will also be in Boston in a couple weeks to present a Rye seminar at Thirst Boston. While we were at Hillrock, Dave led our tasting of three of their whiskies, and he was jovial and personable, an excellent person to spread whiskey passion. And I loved his hat!

We began the tasting with the Solera Aged Bourbon Whiskey ($80), which is produced from a mashbill of 51% corn and 49% rye, and has a 46.3% ABV. This may be the only Solera Aged Bourbon produced in the country, a process that is most well known for making Sherry. The Solera system is a method of fractional blending which includes a number of different levels of barrels. On a regular basis, a portion of alcohol is removed from the barrel at the bottom level, and that alcohol will be bottled. The lower barrel is then refilled from the barrel above it, and that barrel is refilled from the barrel above it. The top barrel is filled with new alcohol once some of it is removed.

There are four tiers in Hillrock's Bourbon Solera, which they started about eight years ago. The first tier is their "nursery," which uses new charred oak barrels. The next two tiers are 53 gallon barrels, which are set in place, and never move. In the final tier, the bourbon spends about 36 days in a 20 year old Oloroso Sherry barrel. Once they bottle the Bourbon, it currently has an average age of six years. Over time, the average age of the Solera Bourbon will increase. Though the Bourbon would technically qualify as a Straight Bourbon, they have chosen not to label it as such.    

From my first sniff of this Bourbon, I was mesmerized. It possessed such an alluring nose, a complex blend of smells, and you would be tempted to simply sit with a glass and enjoy the aromas without even tasting it. However, the taste won't disappoint either, providing a complex melange of flavors, including caramel, vanilla, nuttiness, butterscotch, toffee, and plenty of spicy notes (due to all that rye), There seemed to be be mere wisps of clove and cinnamon, mostly noticeable on the lengthy finish. This was a well balanced Bourbon, impressive in its complexity and quality. and I knew I needed to purchase a bottle. Highly recommended.  

The Single Malt Whiskey ($100) is a peated whiskey made in a Speyside style, meaning it is intended to be a lighter whiskey. Interestingly, Dave usually makes bold whiskies and this may be the softest one he has ever produced, but he still really enjoys it. This whiskey spent about 8 hours with the peat, though Dave mentioned they have produced another whiskey, a "smokebomb," which spent 18-20 hours with peat. No caramel color is added to this whiskey, and all of its beautiful color is natural. I found this whiskey to be smoky and intense, with strong spicy notes, a pleasant nuttiness, some citrus notes, and more noticeable clove and cinnamon flavors. Complex and intriguing, this was an excellent peated whiskey, perfect for the fall and winter. I had to buy a bottle of this whiskey too, and it is also highly recommended.

The Double Cask Rye Whiskey ($90) is produced from 100% rye, and aged into two different types of barrels. Initially is it matured in a charred #3 barrel and then ages further in a new, American oak #4 charred barrel. The idea behind this maturation is to provide some caramel and vanilla elements to balance out the strong spiciness from all that rye. On the palate, there is still an intense spiciness, though very appealing, and balanced well with additional flavors of caramel, vanilla, butterscotch, dried fruit, clove and cinnamon (which are even more prominent in this whiskey). Another winner from Hillrock.

If you travel to the Hudson Valley region, you definitely should take some time to visit Hillrock Distillery. And if you can't make it to the distillery, and are able to find their whiskies at a local retailer, then splurge. There are high quality whiskies, evocative of the terroir of the estate, and you won't be disappointed. I'm eagerly looking forward to watch the evolution of Hillrock, to see what their longer aged whiskies taste like in the future.

How well I remember my first encounter with The Devil's Brew. I happened to stumble across a case of bourbon -- and went right on stumbling for several days thereafter.”
--W.C. Fields