By Lenn Thompson, Editor-in-Chief
This week's What We Drank is a good one for two reasons. First, almost everyone on the team chimed in with something noteworthy. Second, it really shows that we're as big of beer geeks as we are wine geeks. Enjoy!
If this were a Finger Lakes riesling it would be labeled "semi-sweet." My feeling is that critics and perhaps more fanatical consumers stay away from that designation in the Finger Lakes; I've heard people say it's a riesling line to please the sweet wine drinkers.
Perhaps I'm off base with this, but even critical scores are higher for late harvest wines as opposed to semi-sweet. And while the regional style favors more electric riesling than is often found in places like Germany, that doesn't mean sweeter versions should be granted lesser status.
In riesling's ancestral home, sweeter, non-dessert wines are cherished by fanatics and casual drinkers alike.
This Spat is a bit fat in that regard, blunting some of the energy of the acid and coming off just a touch off balance. But it's also hedonistically rich with several waves of ripe fruit. Highly enjoyable.
Put another way: If Barolo is the reticent, beautiful young girl that needs time to find herself, this is the aggressive, flirtatious type. Hard-to-get this is not.
At our post-holiday supper club (rescheduled from a few weeks ago because of snow and sickness), a great many delicious libations crossed my palate. That's always what happens when these 8 drink- and food-obsessed people get together, which makes it difficult sometimes to pick a single beverage for WWD.
Should I write about the Chinon that D brought over? It was fresh and bright and classic young cab franc. Or maybe the Rhone that he brought, which delivered a nice jolt of funk and pepper over top of red berry fruit. How about one of the several saison-style ales that were opened and enjoyed alongside great cheeses, cured meats and other foodstuffs?
In the end, I settled on this IPA from Kansas City-based Boulevard Brewing Company. This wine isn't distributed in New York, but another friend at the party is from KC and he was home over the holidays and brought it back. So, I guess I can thank the "blizzard of 2009" for the opportunity to taste this IPA towards the end of the evening.
Fruity and citrusy in it's hop character, there is a bit of malty heft on the mid-palate, but it finishes clean and dry. My palate was somewhat numb by the time we uncorked it, but the hops woke up my tastebuds without bludgeoning them. The balance was just outstanding here. If only it were easier to get!
Andy Freedman: Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales La Roja
After a game of flag football in Lambeau-like conditions on Saturday in which I sustained several injuries (namely, a severely sprained finger, deep right hand contusion and sprained knee), I was in great need of a Brett Favre-esque painkiller cocktail. I settled instead for a beer and a few Advil.
I have been exploring the world of sour beers of late, and my favorite style of sour so far is the Flanders red ale. In the past week, my friends Martin and Scott both suggested I give the Jolly Pumpkin La Roja a try. Jolly Pumpkin Brewery is based in Dexter, Michigan and is dedicated to producing rustic, country beers. Like New York, the craft beer scene in Michigan has taken off in recent years. Michigan is also home to Arcadia and Bell’s Brewery, among others.
La Roja is an artisan amber ale brewed in the Flanders style. Flanders red is an ideal beer style for wine lovers -- they are complex, typically aged for a year or more in oak barrels and often blended before bottling. I was able to score a bottle at the Whole Foods in Chelsea. As with all Jolly Pumpkin beers, It is unfiltered, unpasteurized and blended in barrels ranging from 2-10 months.
It had a deep reddish-brown color and a "fruit-funk" nose that hints of plums, caramel and vanilla. Jolly Pumpkin also refers to the La Roja as an 'American Wild Ale' and upon first taste you can see why. It hits you up front with a complexity of "funky" flavors, including sour cherries, orange citrus, oak and a distinct "earthiness” flavor. The natural barrel-aging comes through on the finish with some nice spice and port notes. This is only the third beer of this style I've tried, the other two being New York’s own Ommegang Rouge and Panil Barriquée from Italy. I should have plenty of time to try several more in the coming weeks since I officially announced my retirement from flag football on Sunday.
So, what do you get when you shrug your shoulders and dive into a wine that you know is sweet and, gasp, approachable by the masses?
A complete surprise!
Actually, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that Anthony Road's winemaker Johannes Reinhardt has put his excellent winemaking skills to work in Tony's Red, a blend of something-or-other produced in relatively large volume on a non-vintage basis. Hey, it's not vinifera but it was balanced and very drinkable.
A fruity red (reminiscient of cherry) that would probably best be served slightly chilled on a warm evening, Tony's Red will never be my type of wine but if you're into sweeter stuff, by all means head for this one.
Bryan Calandrelli: Urban Uco Malbec by O. Fournier 2008
I've had plenty of Jorge Ordonez selections in the past and I usually associate his logo with $8 to $18 reds from Spain. I especially dig his Jumilla region wines when I'm looking for a well priced big red. This malbec wine from the Uco Valley in Argentina bears the Ordonez name as well.
Ripe red fruit aromas of black cherry and blackberry are predominant here with hints of red meat and vanilla. Fleshy and full, the bright fruit and chewy tannins had the right balance of ripe sweet fruit and fresh acidity. Good length on the finish. This wine really benefits by a subtle use of oak aging.
It's great to see malbec grown outside of the general Mendoza region becoming more and more easy to find. I¹m constantly trying to find the coolest regions of Argentina and Chile lately and this one from the Valle de Uco made a good showing.
There's always one person in the group who has never seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Inevitably, when he or she does get around to seeing it, they don't find it nearly as funny as the hardcore fans. Possibly because most of the jokes are so pervasive in pop culture that we are a bit dull to their impact.
Officially licensed and "tempered over burning witches", this beer is produced in the States by High Falls Brewery in Rochester on behalf of Black Sheep Brewery in the UK (perhaps sending the beer across the pond by swallow is cost-prohibitive).
From the bottle it pours a light amber with very little going on on the nose. Light on the palate with a bit of unmalted barley and some nondescript fruity esters. Even though I was at the bar for karaoke, there was no singing about this beer. Little hops, little malt, overall pretty weak. It definitely didn't leave me with a satisfying "Aaaaaaaagh" after each sip.
It's not terrible but this will normally be sold as a premium bottle, so definitely not worth the price.
I bet this beer has a lot of first-time buyers, but not too many repeat customers. Make like Sir Robin and bravely run away, away. Your money would be better spent on shrubberies. Ni!
Victory's Prima Pils is one of my favorite American Pilsners.
It pours a golden yellow color and has a predominaty hoppy aroma. The body is very
clean, mouthfeel is smooth and body has some backbone to it for a pilsner.
What sets this pilsner apart from many of its counterparts is the amount of hops. There is a fairly large amount of hops for the style on the backend which makes for a great finish.