Musings From The Must

Musings from the Must is a new series in which we invite members of the larger wine industry to submit guest posts....

December 2013 - APPROACHES TO TRYING NEW WINE

by Les Hubbard

Below I have listed a few ways you can try some new Maryland wine. Whether you only drink local or are just starting to explore the local wine scene, there truly is a Maryland wine for everyone. Follow my tips below for some exciting new ways to try #mdwine. For all you know, you may find a new favorite...

If you head down to the Eastern Shore or toward Ocean City, a stop in historic Berlin calls for a visit to the Maryland Wine Bar. Located at 103 Main Street, the Maryland Wine Bar is a great way to try new Maryland wines all in one location. This unique wine bar offers only Maryland wines and has grown rapidly under owners Deborah and Mike Everett’s care. Today they offer wines from 50 of Maryland’s wineries. What a great place to taste your way across the entire state in one location close to the shore!

I would also recommend attending Winter Wine at Evergreen in Baltimore on January 9th.  Over 35 excellent Maryland wines will be poured as samples. All of the wines are available for purchase too. It's a wonderful night and is a great way to taste award-winning wines poured directly from the winemakers themselves. Ask them your questions! This is the time to pick their brains.

Many retailers in Maryland offer periodic samplings including those of Maryland wines. Larger wine retailers employ knowledgeable staff who can help you make selections based on your own personal taste by asking you a few key questions. In navigating the world of wines, a retailer can be your best friend once they understand your tastes and limits on spending. That last sentence brings several points into play...

  • Be willing to wander outside your comfort zone and try new wines. For example, say you enjoy Chardonnay; now try an Albariño, or maybe a hybrid like Seyval or Vidal Blanc.
  • Hybrid wines typically are less expensive than vinifera wines due to cost of production. Here again, your retailer can lead you through different selections at different price levels. 
With the holidays rapidly approaching, this is a great time to try out a new wine with family and friends. Maryland is producing world-class wines, and I hope you'll discover a new one this holiday season.

Les Hubbard is a veritable Maryland wine historian and wine sales representative in Calvert County.

 

 

October 2013 - TOP-TIER WORLD CLASS WINES

by Les Hubbard

The wines in this category are, in my opinion, considered weekend, special occasion or gourmet dinner wines. These are not wines for a hamburger on a Tuesday night. These wines make up a very small portion of total retail wine sales because their price exceeds $20 per bottle. By contrast, “everyday” wines costing less that $20, typically around $10 to $15, make up the majority of consumer purchases and generally are bought to be consumed within 48 hours of purchase.

Value is, of course, in the eyes of the beholder. A third generation member of a long-term Maryland grape growing family told me at the June 2012 MWA Winemaster’s Choice Competition that it’s a tough sell for any Maryland wine retailing above $20 per bottle. I agree with his statement, so let’s start wines that retail above $20 and try to discern “value.”

I first tasted Black Ankle Vineyard’s Crumbling Rock, a red blend, at the Drink Local Wine Twitter Taste-off. This wine developed a cult following, and despite retailing for $48 per bottle, was by then sold out at the winery. When I tasted it, I told Ed Boyce, who owns the winery with his wife, that if tasted blind, it would compare very favorably to two California wines, one from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley and the other a famed Napa winery, which many consider both world class, and that retail for $60 to $80 or more respectively. So in my view, this expensive and very scarce Maryland wine is a value.

Let’s look at some other wines in the $20 to $40 price per bottle range – those that I’ve tried and found enjoyable, and that I’d consider a value. Boordy Vineyard's Landmark Series is a good place to start. Boordy’s Cabernet Franc is an absolutely excellent example of a wine made from a varietal that is typically used as a blending grape.

Another red blend from Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, Circe, is worth seeking out. Woodhall Wine Cellars' Parkton Prestige is a classic red blend, and if you are a Cabernet Sauvignon fan I’d highly recommend Woodhall’s Copernica Reserve. Head west to Elk Run Vineyard and Winery and try their award-winning Merlot and Pinot Noir wines, the latter varietal not offered by many Maryland wineries. Elk Run’s Gewürztraminer is an excellent white wine as are all the remaining Elk Run whites I’ve tried.

If we head south, I’d recommend a stop at Slack Winery to purchase their Sangiovese, Reserve Barbera or simply their Red Drum Red blend. Also try Slack’s Yellow Legs or Maestro’s Symphony, both the same wine made from Petit Manseng. Sales from the latter wine make a contribution to the Chesapeake Orchestra. Tucker Grube O’Brien, the young winemaker at Slack, is doing some amazing things more reminiscent of European wine making, or a minimalist approach that I personally so enjoy.

Back on the Patuxent Wine Trail, a stop at Port of Leonardtown (POL) Winery will provide a taste of their 1634 Chardonnay, a dynamite wine in my view. After spending a delightful afternoon tasting through the entire POL portfolio, we went to Leonardtown to have dinner at Café des Artistes, and were delighted to find that wine on the menu was the same price as it sells for at the winery. One of our favorite gripes involves restaurants that markup their wines anywhere from two to four times wholesale cost - so it was a great discovery finding a local restaurant serving a local wine at a reasonable price. This restaurant often features POL wines at a very special price. Unfortunately, all too few restaurants even carry selections of local wines.

There are, of course, many other world class Maryland wines not mentioned here. Allow me to give one example of a wines not yet released to the public. Dave Collins, a VPI grad in Horticulture who spent 25 years in the Virginia wine industry and most recently was the winemaker at award-winning Breaux Vineyards, talked about the wine experience in attracting new consumers. In 2011 Collins partnered with Randy and Jean Thompson to form Big Cork Vineyards in Washington County where their 22 acres of vines were increased by another two acres this year. And oh, those Big Cork wines I tried at the Twitter Taste-off were absolutely stunning, despite having only been in the bottle a couple of weeks.

Les Hubard is a veritable Maryland wine historian and wine sales representative in Calvert County.

 

September 2013 - Specialty Wines

by Les Hubbard

Although this category might appear to be a catchall, I feel it requires your attention because Maryland is now producing some fine specialty wines including dessert wines, sparkling wines, meads and sparkling ciders. They all deserve your undivided attention.

In future posts, I will mention a few specialty sweeter wines, including Port of Leonardtown Winery's award-winning Autumn Frost. Add to this Elk Run Vineyards and Winery's Sweet Catherine actually made from Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Michaels Winery's Chocolate Zin, and Detour Winery's Meadow Breeze. You may also want to check out Boordy Vineyard's Eeisling, or any of the late harvest Vidals a few selected wineries are offering.

I would consider Orchid Cellar Winery's meads to be dessert wines, although others might put them into a separate class. They offer a wide selection of styles including: Archer, a 2013 Best in Class winner in the Governor's Cup, Beekeeper, Big Game Hunter, Blacksmith, Castellan, Hunter, Knight, Lumberjack, and Monk. If things sounds a bit like merry old England, I’m certain there’s a connection. Mead was the wine of England for centuries before the Romans invaded the Islands and introduced grape wines to the Anglo Saxons thereabouts.

In Maryland, sparkling ciders are considered by law a wine, as they well should be. Today, sparkling or hard ciders have become the new "it" thing to drink in America, and led by a brand called Woodchuck. However, you don’t have to leave Maryland to enjoy a good sparkling cider. And believe me, they have come a good ways since the days when our friend and long time AWS member, Jim Case, opened Chesapeake Cider Company in Bel Air in 1984.

In April, I clearly enjoyed Millstone Cellars's Ciderberry. I also found Great Shoals Winery’s Spencerville Red Hard Apple to be excellent. The apples used to make the cider are from Heyser Farms in Montgomery County. Earlier, I recall trying their Bosc and Bartlett Hard Pea. This is very much a winner in my book!

Sparkling wines appear to be relatively new on the commercial market of Maryland wines. How successful will they be on a year-round sales basis remains to be seen – a long conversation I’ve engaged in with one winery owner. It’s my viewpoint that many, if not most people, consider sparkling wines to be somewhat of a luxury to be enjoyed on holidays or such special occasions and festivities as weddings and graduation parties. From my viewpoint this is a grave mistake because there are few if any wines that pair so well with almost any food as sparklers. Try with seafood, hot, i.e., spicy dishes, just about any dessert or appetizer and I think you will understand my view on sparklers.

How good are Maryland sparklers? Slack Winery's White Shoals won a Bronze Medal at the Annual San Francisco Chronicle’s International Tasting. Well, you say third place, so what? Consider it was competing against some of the world’s finest Sparkling wines including French Champagne and a Bronze ain’t too shabby. Okay, it’s a luxury wine costing over $38 per bottle, however, I greatly enjoyed it. I suspect it would stand up to $50+ per bottle Champagnes any day! Out of your price range? Slack understood the need for a secondary line and began producing Pink Shoals and Rocky Shoals, the later well off dry, as sparklers for well under $20.

Certainly there are other wineries under taking the more difficult task of producing sparkling wines. For example, previously mentioned Great Shoals won Best In Class at the 2012 Governor’s Cup with its 2011 Sparkling Vidal. They also won Best In Class at the recent 2013 Governor's Cup. Sounds like a winner to me.

Again, I’ve merely touched on the many specialty wines now being produced in Maryland. My advice: if you think you would enjoy these wines, get out there and sample a variety of them!

Les Hubbard is a veritable Maryland wine historian and wine sales representative in Calvert County.

 

August 2013 - Eat, Drink, Buy Local

by Ray Brasfield

Taking off on Les Hubbard's theme of local wine, I want suggest that everyone consider embracing that same sense of adventure that it takes to get up, get out, and explore local wine and all of the other artisan and craft entrepreneurs that are local to you. The local food movement has really begun to pop in this region; restaurants and celebrity chefs are falling all over each other to be THE local/seasonal destination. Very nice. (But at the same time, they almost universally forget to include local wine in their 'all things local' marketing for their businesses!)  But, you the everyday everyman citizen can and should play your part. Some grocery chain stores have seasonal produce from local farms. Better yet, hit up the nearest farmers market (they are growing faster in number than just about any other retail entity) and buy directly from the farmer, putting much needed cash, and the profit margin they don't get when they sell wholesale to the grocery store or restaurant, directly into their pocket where it can do the most good.

Same way of thinking goes when shopping for anything. Search first for a local producer or artisan. Aren't you tired of saying ' They don't make things like they used to' whenever looking over merchandise that is cheaply designed and made, all because we Americans now buy on price, not on quality or value. It is our own fault that we are beset by cheap goods; our persistent drive to want to pay less over the last 50 years or so, regardless of the product quality, has driven market-savvy merchandisers to chase lower and lower labor and material costs, so that they can provide us buyers with the lower and lower prices we hunger for.

Shopping local has even more important economic benefit. There is something called 'The Circle of Money', that is a concept central to a healthy local economy. The Circle of Money tracks the life of a dollar as it passes from buyers to sellers. For instance, when a dollar is spent in a business with its profit center many miles, or even countries away, that dollar quickly spirals away from the community, never to return, diminishing the strength of the local economy. When that dollar is spent in a locally owned business, it may circulate 3, 4 or even more times within the community, before it spirals away. This is a very powerful mechanism as it relates to the health of the local economy.

For example, let us say that a citizen is out driving around the beautiful Maryland countryside and gets lost in Carroll County, specifically the black hole named Manchester. Tourist money is 'new money'  as it comes from outside the community, so this is a good place to start this example. Our visitor from civilization sees a beacon of light in the cultural desert and it turns out to be Cygnus Wine Cellars, hidden in beautiful downtown Manchester. He stops in and buys a much needed bottle of wine, and even takes the time to sit on the deck and have a glass of wine while he tries to figure his way out and back to life as he knows it. Ok, enough of him, what about the money he paid me for the wine?

Well, let's say that I take that money and pay the local grape grower, Quail Vineyards, for the Chancellor grapes he grows for me. I have passed new money, received from the hapless tourist (who is still sitting on the deck enjoying his glass of wine), and have used it to buy from a local business. So Bob at Quail Vineyards takes that money and on Friday, gives it to the local hair salon in exchange for getting his hair coiffed. The next day, Saturday, the hair salon owner visits the local Farmer's Market in Hampstead and gives that money to a local grower for some zucchini and tomatoes. The farmer can then take that money, for which he and his family work very hard for (farming is hard work, no matter how you slice it) and pay his bills.

This story can continue, but I think you get the point. The same dollar was passed through four different economic transactions, maintaining the health of the local economy. It circulated within the local economy, multiplying its effect each time it passed into another persons hands.

Our visitor, refreshed by the glass of great local wine, sees the world in a new light and returns home safely, sharing the bottle of local wine he purchased with his wife, who shows her appreciation by taking him to bed for the rest of the day.

Eat, Drink, Buy Local.

Ray Brasfield is the owner and winemaker of Cygnus Wine Cellars in Manchester. Apart from being a huge "local" supporter, Ray is also the author of the blog, Disgorged. His blog touches on a variety of topics, not all including wine. Follow him on twitter at @cygnuswines or look for him at the next Maryland wine event.

 

July 2013 - Why Should Anyone Try Local Wines

by Les Hubbard

Why should anyone try local wines, when—in the retail pricing sweet spot between $8 and $15 per 750 ml bottle—there are thousands of wine selections available from California, Australia, Europe, New Zealand, South America, and South Africa to name just a few? With consumer tastes converging on a certain style wine, and improved wine making technology during the last two decades, most of these wines taste similar regardless of their place of origin. And that’s the problem in this price point range; we now have a globalized style of wine making what some derisively call the “homogenization” of wine or producing California grocery-store style wines. In fact it wouldn’t be too much of a challenge to put together a blind tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon wines from each of the regions listed above and ask experts to identify each wine’s country of origin. I strongly suspect such a test would stump most experts.

Okay, so how does one approach a journey into exploring local wines? There are a number of ways to become familiar with Maryland wines and discover the ones you most enjoy.

TWO APPROACHES TO TRY BEFORE YOU BUY

Many newcomers to local wines use the “Try it before you buy it” approach.  Two principal means for doing so are: (1) visit wineries that offer samples of their wines and you may select from one or more wine trails to pursue; (2) attend one or more of the many wine festivals sponsored by the Maryland Wineries Association (MWA) held from spring until fall starting in April with Decanter Wine Festival in Baltimore and culminating in late October in Cecil County - the granddaddy, and premier festival, is the Maryland Wine Festival held in Westminster in September. Many wineries offer samplings at all or most of the festivals. Some advice: when attending a festival plan on spending an entire morning or afternoon because it usually takes three to four hours to wend your way among the many wineries’ offerings.

If you decide to visit wineries, I’d suggest some lessons my wife and I learned in the 1960s and 1970s when wandering the principal growing areas of Europe and California. It’s probably best to plan on visiting only three wineries in a single day and taking a long casual lunch break during your tour, possibly consuming a bottle you purchased earlier to go along with an outdoor picnic. Why? Make your sampling visit leisurely and linger over the wines a bit discussing them with whoever is pouring for you. If he or she detects a sincere interest on your part, you likely will learn a lot more about the winery and its wines.

Quite frequently in Maryland’s smaller wineries the person pouring your wine might be the owner or his/her spouse, the winemaker or another principal deeply involved in the business.  Remember wineries in Maryland and across America remain mainly family run businesses. Don’t hesitate to express your feelings about the wine, even if negative. These producers thrive on honest consumer feedback and use it in establishing plans for their future wine making efforts. I’d add that we got to know most of the winery owners of the first wave in Maryland (namely wineries opened between 1945 and 2000) and some owners in California who later became notable in the last century.

Every person we came to know personally in the wine trade, mainly winery owners and makers, turned out to be wonderful, typically exceptional individuals, and most truly fascinating. They had diverse interests from the arts, music to sciences and mathematics and always had wonderful stories to tell. I cannot say the same for individuals I met in a diverse cross section of industries I served across America and Canada. That is, wine people are great people to get to know.

That’s not to say we’ve not met our share of wine snobs and elitists. I recall in the early 1970s having taken two different vintages of Montbray Wine Cellars (Silver Run, MD, now closed) Chardonnay and Seyve-Villard (called Seyval Blanc today) to a blind tasting being held on Tuesday nights at the Wine Garden in St. Helena, CA. This retail shop closed early to attract a group of aficionados the Bay area to sample wines blind and discuss their characteristics. On the night in question two Brit “experts” had been invited to sample Chardonnays from California and France. When the four Montbray bottles were disclosed our visiting experts said those are undoubtedly French wines and someone has just put a fake Maryland label on them. When I insisted they were indeed Maryland wines, they almost as a chorus said: “You Yanks just don’t know your French wines as well as we do because we drink the best of them all the time. And we can tell you without question those are from France, not Maryland.”

In 1976, the French government awarded Dr. G. Hamilton Mowbray, proprietor of Montbray with his wife Phyllis, the Mérite Agricole for his work with the SV 5276 or Seyval Blanc grape. The Croix de Chevalier de Mérite Agricole had only been awarded to two Americans up to that time: TV Munson a Texan who had shown the French how to graft their vines to American rootstocks after the phylloxera epidemic began killing their vines in the 1860’s; G. Hamilton Mowbray; and later another Marylander, Phillip Wagner for his work introducing French hybrids to America. Indeed Mowbray made Maryland wines in a French style. Of course, we Yanks with help from the French, surprised those Brits a few centuries earlier in a place called Yorktown.

But more on that later...

Les Hubbard is a veritable Maryland wine historian and wine sales representative in Calvert County.