Part 3: Elixrr Goes to the Franken Region and the Hans Wirsching Winery for Harvest 2014

In the last of our series covering Germany, harvest 2014, Elixrr focuses on the Franken region and top producer, Weingut Hans Wirsching.   In part 3, we will be meeting with Andrea Wirsching to examine the vintage, the estate and the region.

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Part 2 Harvest 2014: A look at the Mosel and the Wegeler Estate

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Bernkastel Doctor Vineyard

It’s the second leg of Elixrr’s trip for Harvest 2014, this time going to the middle Mosel for a visit to the Wegeler Estate and the world famous Doctor Vineyard.

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Harvest workers in the Doctor Vineyard

The famous slate soil of the Doctor Vineyard

The famous slate soil of the Doctor Vineyard

 

 

 

 

 

A New Treatment for the Vine Disease Esca?


Esca is an incurable vine disease with very little treatment possibilities.   The disease is spreading at an increasingly aggressive pace to the point that some wine grape growers fear  that Esca could develop into a devastation similar to phylloxera, a louse that nearly destroyed Europe’s wine sector in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Due to the work of a professor in France, there may be a treatment that could help battle the disease.  Elixrr went out to an old Riesling vineyard to explore a possible new treatment for Esca with wine grower and importer, Toni Moran.

Part 1 of Germany’s Harvest 2014: A look at the Pfalz, Mosel and the Franken Region

Want to know more about the vintage?  Watch Elixrr’s  3 part-mini documentary series on Germany’s Harvest 2014. Part 1 is featured above.

Grapes in the Pfalz

Grapes in the Pfalz

Elixrr looks at three regions and 4 estates in a documentary series covering the 2014 harvest in Germany.

Covered in the 3-part series are the following estates and regions:

Part 1

Last day of harvest at the Friedrich Becker Winery.

Last day of harvest at the Friedrich Becker Winery

Weingut Friedrich Becker – Pfalz

Vineyard in the Pfalz

Vineyard in the Pfalz

Weingut Rebholz – Pfalz

Part 2

Weingut Wegeler

Bernkastel-Kues

Bernkastel-Kues

Wegeler harvest manager, Peter

Wegeler harvest manager, Peter Hettgen-Cues

Part 3

Weingut Wirsching

Hans Wirsching Winery

Hans Wirsching Winery

Adrea Wirsching

Andrea Wirsching

Part 1 is now available (above).

Vintage 2014 in a nutshell:

Warm nights and high humidity, rain, hail in places and the first-time arrival of the Cherry Vinegar fly or Spotted Wing Drosophila across many wine regions in that part of Europe made harvest 2014 a vintage many winemakers will not soon forget.   In fact, when asking some winemakers in Germany about the challenges and what vintage might compare in terms of the harvest the answer was a decisive “none.”

No one anticipated the Asian pest’s arrival, which caught winegrowers flat footed.  The pest that is known all over Asia and now in California, Canada and other areas in Europe primarily goes after red wine grapes when it isn’t attacking berries and cherries.  However, it does go after white wine grapes when there isn’t anything else, so many white wine only grape areas were impacted.

The fly is called the cherry vinegar fly because in addition to attacking cherries and other berries, as mentioned, the part of the fruit it infects takes on a  vinegar-like odor.

There is good news to the vintage, however.  Despite the challenges, the grapes had no trouble reaching physiological ripeness.  With care in the vineyards, there will be some very good wines to choose from this vintage with the caveat that quantities will be considerably down in many regions.   Some estates are reporting that this year will yield a 25-40% less in an average year.

Critical in 2014, was the used of hand-pickers, a practice mostly associated with top estates.  Stick with top producers and there is an abundant choice of premium quality wines from the vintage.

Want to know more about the vintage?  Watch Elixrr’s  3 part-mini documentary series on Germany’s Harvest 2014. Part 1 is featured above.

 

 

UK’s Craft Beer Movement Gains Momentum

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Brew by Numbers co-founder Tom Hutchings

A few weeks back the second annual London Craft Beer Festival took place. I was struck by the energy,  reminiscent of the almost counter-culture, rebellious hipster vibe that the American Craft Beer movement had in its early days.  These independent brewers seem unafraid to take inspiration from across the pond and around Europe, having fun creating innovative brews at premium quality levels and maintaining a unique British identity.

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A stout from Alpha State Brewery

So, now that there are many delicious, well-made, exciting beers to be had in the UK, the only downside seems to be in finding them.  It is surprising how few pubs seem to have taken hold of the movement.  Sure, some pubs might have an odd craft beer on tap, but more often than not, what one finds are the usual suspects.

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Partizan’s Cuvee Lemon

Is it laziness or is it the big guys paying for space/tap lines?  Or, are consumers satisfied with the current fare on offer and therefore on-premise establishments see no need to diversify their selection and create more work for themselves?

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Bethnal’s Pale Ale

I don’t have enough data to answer this conclusively.  Consumption of micro-brews on-premise is increasing rapidly; 79% over the previous 12 month period according to the Publicans Morning Advertiser’s article Demystifying the Craft Beer Movement by Jessica Mason.  Still, craft beers only represents 1.9% of the total beer volume according to Mason.  There is still a lot of hard work to be done before craft beers represent a sizable chunk of the UK beer market.

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Having worked in distribution/import in the US, it was common place for the big players to offer incentives or kickbacks to licensees in order that they carry their products,  no matter what laws might have been on the book to the contrary.   It often made it challenging  working for smaller players who didn’t have this type of “marketing” budget and to find those accounts who saw the bigger picture–that offering a better beverage selection wins repeat customers and new business.

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This brings me back to an analysis I did of the Australian beer sector a few years back.   According to data it appeared that Australia was on the verge of becoming a wine drinking nation.  Wine consumption was increasing, while  beer consumption was dropping significantly to 66 year lows according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)(Sun Herald, 4/2/2014, Philip Hudson).

The incomplete, raw data supported what the “experts” conjectured;  consumer tastes were changing and Australians were set to become a nation of wine drinkers .  After digging a little deeper, however, the conclusion made didn’t match with other pieces of the puzzle.

First, it was identified that due to a wine glut, wine prices were depressed.  Beer prices on the other hand were relatively high, especially in on-premise environments mostly due to Australia’s excruciatingly high  level of taxation on beer–among the highest in the world according to Carlton & United Breweries corporate affairs director Jeremy Griffith.  (Sun Herald, 4/2/2014, Philip Hudson).

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Second, the vast majority of pubs continued to pour the same boring, flavorless mainstream beers that they had for years.  The big players often paying for their tap lines in some fashion or other, to keep the standard fare on tap despite hardy demand for craft beers according to Fairfax Media. Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/business/competition-probe-circles-beer-makers-lion-carlton–united-20140530-399qj.html#ixzz3CS6xL1fY

The moral of the story, the trade hasn’t been responsive or encouraging to the changing taste of consumers.  People have been left to voting with their palates and opt for wine or something else.

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Back in the UK, the last several years have seen incredible growth in the UK independent beer movement, but it will be interesting to see how far the movement will go.

One of the most Popular American Micro-Brews, Sierra Nevada

One of the most Popular American Micro-Brews, Sierra Nevada

Will the big guys start making more interesting brews and steal the independent’s thunder?  Or, will independent breweries continue little by little to chip at the big boys?  Time will tell, but I am hoping beer lovers continue to find greater choice and quality both in the pubs and in their local shops.

 

Chilling Your Favorite Whisky with Rocks from Vermont

Teroforma Whisky Stones 6 WebHave a friend who is a Whisky aficionado and don’t know what to get him/her? Or, are you looking for something to add to your own Whisky experience?  Whisky Stones are a modern take on an old Scandinavian tradition whereby cold stones are used to chill down the temperature of spirits.

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co-Founder Andrew Hellman came up with the idea of making Whisky Stones after he found a bag of loose stones in his own grandfather’s liquor cabinett and learned the tradition of how they were used to chill down alcohol.

Whisky Stones are handcrafted in Vermont from soapstone by the Vermont Soapstone company, one of America’s oldest soapstone workshops in the country. Soapstone, a talc-schist comprised mostly of the mineral talc has the benefit of being flavor neutral, non-absorbent, and can retain either heat or cold for a relatively long period of time.  The stones are light weight with no sharp edges, so drinkers don’t have to be afraid of the stones damaging their glasses.

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Falling for Whisk-e-y in Fall

Now that we are heading into colder weather, what could be better for a nippy Autumn night, but a fabulous whisk(e)y?  Do you like peaty flavors in your whisk(e)y?  Something sweeter and more complex? A little fruit maybe?

Below, are some Whiskies that that might fit what your palate: italy 281 Made at Kilchoman, the first distillery to be established on Islay in 125 years and one of a few still practicing floor malting.  Kilchoman has brought back the tradition of the farm distillery to Islay by being the only to do all parts of the production process at the distillery from growing their own barley to bottling.

Their spirits are matured in first fill bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky and first fill Oloroso sherry butts from Miguel Martin in Jerez, Spain.

This 2008 single cask release has plenty of butterscotch, vanilla, some spicy fruit and smoky, peaty notes.  Logging in at 61% alc, the only downside to this whisky is that you can only find this bottling at the Whisk(e)y Exchange.

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Easier to obtain, but no less good, the 2007 vintage is made by using 80% Bourbon barrels and the balance from Sherry Butts.  This is the oldest whisk(e)y available at the time of any given release.  The 2007 vintage has salty peat, clove, vanilla, nutmeg and smoked fruit notes.

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From the Highlands in Scotland, Balblair has been making Scotch since 1790. Balblair is unique in its production of only vintage Scotch, signifying the year it was made.

Balblair is typically fruity, smooth and complex.  Their 1975 bottling made 100% with Sherry Casks is no exception.  The complex, smokey, spicy-sweet aromas are followed by honey, citrus, vanilla and spice notes on the palate, finishing long with a touch of coconut, vanilla and smoke.

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Ok, this is rare and retailing for 2,500 GBP, so not exactly affordable. But, it is too delightful not to write about after having tasted it!  On the nose, lots of fresh fruit aromas; citrus, stone fruit and some herbal, mint notes.  On the palate some toffee, spicy fruit, a touch of apple and herbal notes.  Very long on the finish, ending with smoky, vanilla flavors.  So perfectly integrated and at its peak, this is worth seeking out.

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AnCnoc is another Highland whisky, also typically fruity with complex, spicy flavors and aromas.  Lots of fresh citrus and apple flavors with some nutmeg and ginger, finishing with notes of smoke and vanilla.

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Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr was considered to be one of the founding fathers of the bourbon industry, combining classic with modern bourbon making techniques and innovating climate control ageing in warehouses.  E.H. Taylor Jr’s Small Batch is made by hand and aged in the very warehouses the Colonel constructed over a century ago.

Full of apricot, peach and butterscotch flavors this bourbon has sweet popped corn/salted caramel notes.  The long finish ends with some smoky tobacco flavors. italy 290

Rock Hill is a “Rye Recipe” Kentucky Straight Bourbon.  Bourbon in general must be made from at least 51% corn, meaning that this “rye recipe” bourbon just has more rye than the average bourbon.  In addition, Bourbon can not be distilled to more than 160 proof, nor can additional flavorings or colors can be added at any time.  Bourbon must be aged for a minimum of 2 years in new charred oak barrels.

The Rock Hill is very spicy and nutty, with dried red fruit, caramel, toffee and almond paste flavors.  Smooth and honey-like on the finish finishing with notes of butterscotch, toffee and almond.

 

Great Whisky and Food Pairings

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There is always a lot of talk among foodies regarding wine and food pairings, but it isn’t often that one connects whisky as a possible partner to both savory and sweet dishes.  At a recent tasting, I had the opportunity to taste a variety of whiskies paired with everything from Turkish Delight, Chocolate, oysters to sausage.  Below are some pictures of these pairings:

Dried sausage with a wee dram of Kilchoman

Dried sausage with a wee dram of Kilchoman Machir Bay

This pairing probably is one of the more obvious ones. The meaty sausage flavor combined with the peaty, iodine smokey notes of this Islay delight is sublime and a nice alternative to the normal tapas combos.

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Turkish Delight with the Balblair 2002

Turkish delight with whisky?  Beats me, but somehow the sweet rose flavors of the Turkish Delight took the Balblair 02 scotch to another level.

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Glenmorangie Signet paired with Artisan du Chocolat truffles

The Glenmorangie Signet paired with a variety of chocolates courtesy of Artisan du Chocholat of London was heavenly.  Ok, I could have stayed here all night long.  The chocolates were off the hook and the scotch which had sweet notes of chocolate, orange and coffee note. Glenmorangie uses a chocolate malted barley for this whisky, which they attribute to an important component to making this pairing work.

 

 

Top Martinis at Dukes Hotel Bar

Dukes Hotel Bar is one of the most famous martini bars in the world.   Of course, there is the allure of the bar’s connection to legendary James Bond Author, Ian Fleming, which adds a certain mystique to the bar.  The hotel has a romantic air, located in a quiet nook in Mayfair; the elegant woodwork giving the hotel a cozy, refined air from a bygone era.

But, the Martinis and other personalized cocktails are what draws the most hard-core martini imbibers.  The martinis at Dukes are made using the best and freshest ingredients; lemons shipped in from Italy and a constantly changing list of the most interesting, cutting edge hand-crafted spirits no doubt keeps its clientele happily returning.

Besides the decision to focus on small interesting, micro-distilled spirits as opposed to the big brands, the charismatic head bartender Alessandro Palazzi along with the help of his capable staff, have to be credited with adding personality and “theater” in its martini making.  At Dukes, martinis are made tableside with the use of small carts.   Patrons get to be entertained watching their own master piece made right before their eyes all while enjoying the banter from the showmen who work at Dukes.

The above video depicts a visit to Duke’s interviewing Alessandro Palazzi about Dukes, his use of Sacred Spirits, and other micro-distilled spirits in their personalized cocktails.

A Visit to Sacred Distillery

Sacred Distillery started in 2009 and was one of the first, new distilleries in London to establish itself in nearly 200 years.  Now, one of the smallest micro-distillers in London, size hasn’t stopped Sacred from getting its line of hand-crafted, organic spirits distributed in Spain, Australia, New Zealand as well as to over 35 states in the US.

What makes this producer so unique, is its use of vacuum distillation in lieu of the more traditional pot still.  Instead of cooked flavors, drinkers can experience the pure essence of botanicals like frankincense or the juicy fruit flavors of, say, pink grapefruit.   This difference can only be appreciated when comparing a gin tonic made with Sacred’s gin to a traditionally made gin.  If you like fresh flavors that assault all senses, then this is the way to go!

On a recent trip to the US, I found Sacred Gin featured at Macintosh Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina.   I had the bartender muddle fresh mint leaves and cucumber along with some fresh squeezed lime juice followed by tonic water and Sacred Gin.

Before I knew it, my family was ordering the drink, too.  It was so refreshing with such purity; the perfect drink on a hot, sticky July day in Charleston.  Problems only began when the restaurant ran out of Sacred and had to substitute for another, more traditionally made gin.  The result was near mutiny at the table.

I am now a believer in their use of vacuum distillation…But, don’t believe me, go out and find a bottle.  In the meantime, I have taped my visit to Sacred Distillery above so you can find out a bit more about their operation.

I want to thank Ian Hart for his time and for letting my team come and film.

Apologies for any sound issues, this is my first video project and I need to resolve better how to get good quality sound in noisy, windy places.