Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer Wine Dinner On The Patio

Earlier this week we enjoyed our 5th annual Bread & Wine Dinner at American Flatbread's Burlington Hearth, hosted by Joerg Klauck of Vermont Wine Merchants with a dazzling menu created by Jon Morin and Jaime Miller of American Flatbread.

For us, this event has a great city vibe, because it's set outside in the alley adjacent to the restaurant, with little tables under Cinzano umbrellas. Kinda has the feel of being back in Little Italy (Manhattan), in one of those tiny restaurants with outdoor seating between the brownstones. This event also allows the chefs at Flatbread to strut their creative stuff well beyond the great flatbreads they already offer and, once again, they nailed it. It's amazing what they can turn out of those stone ovens! Joerg also wasn't too shabby with his wine pairings!

Without further ado, here 'tis the evenings menu with our wine notes:

Reception: VT cheese board with apricot compote, mixed olives and sesame cracker
Wine: Domaine Charles Gonnet "Chignin", Savoie, France, 2010
Tasting Notes: 100% Jacquere grapes from the heart of Savoie, near the French Alps and the home of cheese fondue! This was a perfect match for the cheese course, with plenty of crisp, refreshing acidity to cut through the richness of the cheese. Six months of lees aging adds body and texture. This wine would also be tremendous with any of the regions traditional sausage platters (i.e. Diots).

Appetizer: Chilled beet soup with horseradish creme fraiche and chives
Wine: Cantina Terlano "Terlaner" Classico, Alto Adige, Italy, 2009
Tasting Notes: A lovely blend of Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. More fruit-driven and less crisp than the prior offering, which worked very well with this dish. Stainless steel fermentation showcases the apricot and citrus fruit flavors backed by solid minerality. The aromas and flavors are classic "mountain white" from northern Italy. This wine would also be perfect on its own as a summer afternoon quaffer.

Pasta: Jonah crab ravioli with heirloom tomato sauce and fresh basil
Wine: A. Margaine "Brut Rose", Champagne, France, NV
Tasting Notes: A beautiful, strawberry-colored Chardonnay/Pinot Noir "grower champagne". Everything you could dream of in a classic champagne! Delicious, yet almost overpowering for this subtly delicious crab and pasta course.

Salad: Cavendish quail oven-roasted,with local greens, fresh chevre and lemon vinaigrette
Wine: Gobelsburg "Renner" Gruner Veltliner, Kamptal Reserve, Austria, 2009
Tasting Notes: Full disclosure...we've had this wine before (many times in fact) and it is one of our all-time favorite white wines...EVER! Lovely citrus, pear and apricot flavors with nicely balanced minerality. This wine can stand proudly next to any fine white Burgundy. Find it, buy it, enjoy it!

Flatbread: Cider-braised lamb with rainbow chard, roasted garlic and summer pear tomatoes
Wine: Storybook Mountain "Antaeus" Estate Red, Napa Valley, California, 2007
Tasting Notes: The only red wine of the evening, but worth the wait. A blend of 50% Zinfandel with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Showcases much of the full fruitiness of Zinfandel, yet adds the aroma and structure of the Bordeaux varietals. Perfect for lamb! Probably not your everyday, go to wine for pizza, but if you've got the wallet for it, by all means go for it!

Dessert: Buttermilk shortcake with fresh peach compote and maple mascarpone cream
Wine: Standing Stone Vineyards "Riesling Ice", Finger Lakes, New York, 2010
Tasting Notes: Rich flavors of melon, citrus and hazelnut, with a nice dollop of crisp acidity to balance the RS. The RS does not hit you over the head (like some we've tasted before and dislike immensely...), and thus made this a very surprising and pleasant dinner-ending experience. Even Lisa tipped back her entire glass, and that speaks volumes!

We're already looking forward to next year. We also hear through the grapevine that the Middlebury Marble Works Hearth is considering a similar event. If so, we'll be there as well to see what masterworks their chefs can deliver! Considering our location, it would be REALLY NICE if George would consider a similar event at Flatbread's original Waitsfield location...

Until next time...


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Giving Beer Equal Time

While this blog normally focuses on wines (check the page name...), we've recently expanded our beer list to include some offerings that deserve attention. Let's face it - some people don't like wine, others just love beer, and some choose one or the other based upon what they're eating. So we've added a selection of "Dinner Ales" from around the world. Most are in 750 ml bottles that are bottle-conditioned and corked. Our selection offers a wide range of flavor and aroma profiles, with higher alcohol levels, some close to wine.

Our current "Dinner Ale" list, from darkest to lightest, is as follows:

  • Allagash "Black" (Portland, Maine): A Belgian-style stout; creamy mouth feel with roasted coffee and chocolate notes; 7.5% ABV
  • Koningshoeven "La Trappe Quadrupel" (Tilburg, Netherlands): A full-bodied, dark brown Trappist ale; sweet malt, fruit, spice and oak aging; 10.0% ABV
  • Het Anker "Gouden Carolus Classic" (Mechelen, Belgium): Ruby red in color; rich and creamy with aromas and flavors of caramel, molasses, maple and raisins; 8.5% ABV
  • Duvel Moortgat "Maredsous Blonde" (Puurs, Belgium): A blonde abbey ale; fruity with a dry, gently-hopped finish; 6.0% ABV
  • De Ranke "Bitter XX" (Wevelgem, Belgium): A blonde ale; world-famous for its award-winning hoppiness and flavor; 6.2% ABV
  • D'Achouffe "Houblon Dobbelen IPA Tripel" (Achouffe, Belgium): A blonde ale; somewhere between a nice Belgian tripel and a classic IPA; wonderful aroma with nice body; 9.0% ABV
  • Dupont "Foret" (Tourpes, Belgium): The organic version of world-famous Saison Dupont; earthy, aromatic and full-flavored, yet refreshing; 7.5% ABV
  • Ommegang "Hennepin" (Cooperstown, NY): A saison farmhouse ale; refreshing, bright and lively with gingersnap and citrus flavors; 7.7% ABV
Stay at Weathertop, join us for dinner and try some of our new "Dinner Ales"!

Book a room at Weathertop Mountain Inn now!
Planning a trip? Check our availability.

Until next time...


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Visit by Frog's Leap

Wow, it's been a year since our last post...we've gotta improve on that track record! We just had a very pleasant wine-tasting experience that kick-started us into writing our first blog for 2011.

Last week we were visited by John Williams, owner of Frog's Leap Winery in Rutherford, Napa. It's not every day that the owner of a winery shows up at our door with some wines to taste!

And what a portfolio he has! All of the wines are wonderfully aromatic, with distinct herbaceous and mineral qualities. Call it "Rutherford Dust" or alchemy, but it's there no matter what varietal you taste (other than the Chardonnay which comes from Carneros fruit...). All of these wines are incredibly food friendly, clocking in at 12.6 - 13.7% alcohol, unlike the currently popular, high alcohol Cali fruit bombs! The only downside is that none of these wines are for cheapskates, but you get what you pay for, and heck - you only live once! Here's what we tasted:

2009 Sauvignon Blanc:
Lovely aromas of flowers and lemongrass with citrus flavors and noticeable minerality (almost Riesling-like, though not as slatey...). Only 12.6% alcohol, so drink up! At a retail price of $18, it won't be the least expensive S.B. you've ever had, but probably one of the nicest.

2007 Zinfandel:
Yes, Zinfandel. Some people in Napa still remember how to make old-school Zin! This one has the typical cherry and berry flavors with a dollop of spice, but the addition of Petite Sirah and Carignan keep it light and give it a nice acidity. At only 13.4% alcohol, this one was shcking in a good way, atypical of California Zinfandel. At a retail price of $27, it might not become your everyday pour, but enjoy it as often as you can!

2007 Merlot:
Nice cherry flavor with hints of cocoa and tobacco. This one's also at 13.4% alcohol, so it too is light and very food friendly, much like a quality Pomerol. Price is getting up there at $34 retail.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon:
Primarily Rutherford Cab with some Cab Franc and Merlot. Typical cherry and berry aromas and flavors, with a dose of smoke and minerals. Very drinkable now with soft tannins and only 13.6% alcohol. Consider this one if your having a dinner party where you want to impress your friends, as well as please yourself! Retails at $42...don't think about it until the bottle is gone...

2006 Rutherford:
Mostly estate Cab with 8% Cab France. This is the big boy at a retail price of $75! If you buy it, don't share it with anyone (other than your spouse or significant other...). We have no idea how John Williams can pack so much flavor into this wine, and do so with only 13.7% alcohol. The profile is similar to the standard Cab, just bigger and bolder! We would drink this wine every day if we could afford it! If you get the opportunity, try it...a hedonistic pleasure you won't regret...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Blog 2010.02: Napa/Sonoma Visit, Spring 2009

With the 2009/2010 ski season quickly winding down, we're starting to think about what we want to do for our upcoming "mud season" getaway. That got us thinking about last year's spring vacation, part of which was a "business trip" to Napa and Sonoma. Since we didn't have a blog at that time, we thought we would take this opportunity to re-visit last year's discoveries in Cali Wineland.

Our home base for the trip was a very cool rental home in Sebastopol that had Martin Ray's vineyards in the backyard (literally...). From there, we spent a week exploring Sonoma and Napa wineries-of-choice, returning each evening with a selection of wines to pair with dinner, typically something we routinely serve in our restaurant (we told you, this was a business trip...).

Before presenting some of our favorite wine discoveries, here are some general learnings from our trip:

  • Sonoma can be expensive and Napa can be REALLY expensive. We easily spent in one week what we would spend on a six week trip to Indonesia or Thailand (scuba diving expenses excluded...). However, if you are willing to rent a house and do your own cooking (which we happen to enjoy...), the price tag drops dramatically. Additionally, the quality of the local produce is amazing, so cooking becomes a pleasure! Stay in Sonoma and travel to Napa - that will definitely save you a few pesos...

  • Wine tasting ain't cheap! While you will get the occasional freebie, most wineries now charge $5 - $25 per person for a flight of wines. If you're seeing a couple of wineries a day, do the math. Running a business, we got a few comps, but not always (not that we would expect it...). Many wineries will waive the tasting fee if you purchase a bottle or two. Since we were cooking in, we needed to purchase wine anyway, so that saved us some $.

  • Many of Cali's finest wines never leave the state, because they don't have to. Most wineries have clubs, and many of the members are locals. We saw many cars driving back to San Fran loaded with expensive cases. Why ship out of state when you can sell your entire production to locals who will even pick-up at the winery?? Nice market if you can get it...Bottom line - Enjoy the "good stuff" while you're in Napa/Sonoma. You may not be able to get it again at home, and if you can, you may not enjoy the price!

  • Most wineries have beautiful picnic areas (check in advance...). Pack yourself a gourmet lunch and purchase a bottle of wine to pair with your lunch fare. The winery will then usually waive your tasting fee, so you have saved twice!

  • Do yourself a favor - spit! If you want to visit a few wineries each day, this practice will help to clear your palate and your head. It will also help you to see the person driving down the centerline who didn't spit at all throughout the day! It was amazing to see the number of people consuming every last drop - and yes, the cops are watching!

  • There is plenty to do here beyond tasting wine! Break up the day with some extracurricular activities. More on that to follow...

Now for some of our favorite wineries on this trip:

  • Gary Farrell Winery - Beautiful hillside location on the western side of the Russian River in Sonoma. Their Cresta Ridge Chardonnay is a lightly-oaked gem. Their vineyard-specific Pinot Noirs are also incredible, but pricey ($50-100/bottle - ouch...).

  • Hop Kiln Winery - Just north of Gary Farrell on the same road. They work mainly with Grenache and Syrah, and we were delighted with their Grenache Rose, Rosa Bellissima, loaded with strawberry and guava aromas and flavors.

  • St. Supery Winery - Located on the St. Helena Highway in the heart of Rutherford (Napa Valley). Very nice self-guided tour which includes their art gallery and demonstration vineyard. While we enjoyed virtually everything in their portfolio, we were blown away by their 2005 Limited Edition Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the first wine we ever tasted that drove home the concept of "Rutherford Dust". Unfortunately, VERY expensive at $80 (you only live once...) and only available at the winery.

  • Mumm Napa - Located on the Silverado Trail just north of St. Supery. For those who want to understand the traditional method of making champagne, this is the tour for you. They also have a photo gallery with a tremendous collection of Ansel Adams originals. As for their sparkling wine, we carry their Brut Prestige on our wine list.

  • Summers Winery - A small family winery located north of downtown Calistoga (Napa). Loved their Charbono, a novel Italian varietal. They don't currently sell into Vermont, but we keep trying to get Vermont Wine Merchants interested. Any chances Joerg?

  • Bennett Lane - Located next to Summers Winery. We've always had their Meritage Blend, Maximus, on our wine list. We just wanted to see where it came from!

  • Lambert Bridge Winery - Located in the Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma), north of Healdsburg. This winery has one of the most beautifully landscaped picnic areas in Sonoma, and their Viognier is one of the best we have ever tasted! Unfortunately, they don't ship to Vermont.

  • Ferrari-Carano Winery - A large, commercial producer, with one of the most elegant estates near Lake Sonoma. Their formal gardens are also spectacular. Skip the sampling in their regular tasting room (you can try that stuff at home for a reasonable price...). Rather, pay a little more and go down to their stunningly beautiful cellar for some limited release tastings. The Back 40 Cab, Treson Blend and Sangiovese are all memorable, and you can't get them outside the winery.

  • Benziger Family Winery - Located close to downtown Glen Ellen (Sonoma). This winery runs an excellent tour, showing you what it truly means to be a biodynamic grower. While their generic wines are quite good, we were very impressed by the bold flavors and richness of their 2006 Reserve Chardonnay (Carneros) and their 2005 Oonapais Bordeaux Blend.

  • Bartholomew Park Winery - A historic winery just east of downtown Sonoma, first planted in the 1830's. A foundation has been set up to manage this 37-acre estate vineyard in perpetuity. Their museum of California wine history is quite good. Of their portfolio, we enjoyed the Syrah which is rich and spicy and the Sauvignon Blanc which is wonderfully aromatic. They can only be purchased at the winery or through their wine club.

  • Pine Ridge Winery - Located on the Silverado Trail north of downtown Napa. Very helpful staff in the tasting room, and a beautifully landscaped picnic area (normally available to club members only, but they let us use it anyway...). We had their incredible rich Dijon Clone Chardonnay with lunch, and things only got better from there. We now carry several of their products on our wine list - Dijon Clone Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc-Viognier Blend, Crimson Creek Merlot and Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon - all of which have a signature Pine Ridge herbaciousness. This was one of the biggest "finds" of the trip.

  • Conn Creek Winery - Located on the Silverado Trail in Rutherford. This was our last winery visit of the trip, and one of our biggest surprises. An outstanding selection of Bordeaux varietals at very reasonable prices (by Napa standards...) for the quality delivered. We now carry several of their products on a custom order basis - Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Hozhoni Vineyard "Rutherford AVA" Cabernet Sauvignon and Anthology (their superb Meritage blend).

So, what's there to do other than taste wine, you ask? Plenty:

  • Armstrong Redwoods and Austin Creek Recreation Area - Walk in wonder amongst these towering giants. You can also spend several days hiking the trails through Austin Creek.

  • Coastal drive from Bodega Bay to Gualala - The are plenty of places to stop and walk along the way including Doran Regional Park, Sonoma Coast State Park, Fort Ross Historic Park, Kruse Rhododendron State Park and Gualala Point Regional Park. Grab some fresh seafood along the way...

  • The Charles M. Schulz Museum - Discover the genius that was "Sparky" Schulz and learn the history of his Peanuts gang.

  • Downtown Sonoma - Go on a walking tour of the historic buildings that are museums. They are all part of Sonoma Valley State Historic Park and accessible on one ticket.

  • Petrified Forest - West of Calistoga on the Napa/Sonoma border. A pleasant walk and quite interesting, even though the gift shop entrance is 1950's touristy.

  • Just drive - There are beautiful views in any direction, and the winding roads up and over the hills between Sonoma and Napa are a special experience. To quote David Crosby: "When I die I don't want to go to heaven, I just wanna drive my beautiful machine up north on some Sonoma County road...". Enough said...

  • There are several more options, but we ran out of time on this trip!

That's all for this issue. Until next time, may all your wine experiences be pleasant ones...


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Blog 2010.01: Rosé - It's Not Just For Summer...

For our first wine blog, we decided to talk about an under-utilized and sometimes misunderstood type of wine - rosé. Here are two typical misconceptions we have observed:

  1. "Rosés are sweet" - This is only partly true in that it applies to White Zinfandel and dessert wines, like a Pink Moscato.
  2. "Rosés are only good as summer aperitifs" - Again, partly true, because of the word "only". They can be much more than that, and that's the subject of this issue.

Ah, summer...Picture this scenario...It's late afternoon of a warm & sunny day and you've just cleaned up from a hard day's work of gardening and landscaping. You plop down in a comfy chair on your patio to watch the sunset and start groovin' on some tunes by Jerry G & The Gr8ful D or streamin' some rock & blues classics by those Musicheads at The Album Station. Now it's time for the big decision - What to drink (after a big glass of water, of course...)?

Of the items in our libation arsenal, a rosé comes up quite often - American, French, Italian, Australian, South doesn't matter. A rosé oozes happiness and sunshine. It is thirst quenching and flavorful - thoroughly satisfying. To describe the flavor profile in a word - STRAWBERRY. Some are more herbally, minty or minerally, but strawberry is always there. No matter what country, no matter what grape variety, there is always a glimmer of strawberry. Why? Don't know...go ask the experts!

But a rosé can be much more than a summer quaffer. It is maximum food-friendly. Light enough for most seafood, yet bold enough for most meat dishes, and perfect for salads (as long as they are not overly vinegared). Just recently, we had some guests order the following for dinner - wild boar sausage & spicy sea scallop appetizers with arctic char & roasted duck mains. They asked for our recommendation and out came a sparkling rosé (see below for details). While it may not have been the perfect match for the individual dishes, it worked well for the whole, and the palate-cleansing characteristic of the bubbles was a bonus.

And here's an added bonus...Now is a great time to check your favorite wine shop for any remaining rosés in stock. Since the next vintage will be coming out shortly, you may be able to get a good deal to "help" move inventory (what a pleasant way to lend a hand...). While the shelf-life of rosé is not tremendous, anything you purchase should be fine for near term consumption. FYI, we have some 2007's that are still pouring quite well.

Without further ado, here are some interesting rosés to have fun with:

  • Azienda Agricola Provenza "Chiaretto",
    Garda DOC Classico, Garda (Lombardia), Italy, 2007

    A unique blend of Barbera, Groppello, Marzemino and Sangiovese grapes from Italy's northern lake region
    Distributor - Vermont Wine Merchants

  • Château Grande Cassagne,
    Costières de Nimes AC, St-Gilles (The Midi), France, 2008

    Primarily Syrah. A fine example of rosé in the French tradition. This is the wine that made us converts to rosé!
    Distributor - Vermont Wine Merchants

  • Casal Garcia "Rosé",
    Vinho Verde DOC, Penafiel, Portugal, 2008

    Vinho Verdes are always light, fizzy and fun. This one just takes it to another level, at a very reasonable price. You can't go wrong with this offering!
    Distributor - Vermont Wine Merchants

  • Foss Marai "Roös Spumante Brut",
    Guia di Valdobbiadene (Veneto), Italy, NV

    Primarily Prosecco with a dose of Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Cabernet Sauvignon for extra color and flavor. Comes in a beautifully molded bottle of award-winning design to complete the package. This is the wine we served at the dinner mentioned above. Delizioso e unico!
    Distributor - Farrell Distributing Corporation

  • Graham Beck "Brut Rosé",
    Franschhoek, South Africa, NV

    A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We served this one to our dinner guests on New Year's Eve. The food-friendly nature of this sparkling rosé made it a slam-dunk for the diverse range of flavors presented on that evenings special menu...Thanks go to Joerg Klauck for suggesting this wine!
    Distributor - Vermont Wine Merchants

  • Buehler Vineyards,
    Napa Valley AVA, St. Helena, California, 2007

    Yes folks, a White Zinfandel. While we are not big fans of this style, this particular wine does have some real Zinfandel berry character. And, it is estate grown, unlike most of it's competition. If you like White Zin, you owe it to yourself to try it. It also makes a great poaching medium, and we've even made a refreshing sorbet from it!
    Distributor - Vermont Wine Merchants

And there you have it. Now go out, get some rosé, and have some fun...and don't wait for summer to get here to do it...


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Welcome To Our Wine Blog!

Welcome to our new wine blog...

Why are we doing this? As Vermont innkeepers who manage a licensed restaurant, we are very fortunate to be able to incorporate our hobby and passion for wine into our business. This has allowed us to taste a tremendous number of wines - from fantastic to awful - far more than we would ever have tasted as non-innkeepers.

We thought it would be fun to share our "information gathering" with our friends and guests, hence the creation of this blog!

What makes us qualified to do this? The simply answer is - nothing...We are not sommeliers nor tasting experts - we just love wine! As we go forward, here a some things that you won't find in future issues:

  • Complex tasting notes with daunting descriptions of aroma and flavor profiles. If you want those, read Robert Parker's "Wine Advocate", Jancis Robinson's "Purple Pages", Marvin Shanken's "Wine Spectator" or any of Hugh Johnson's wine guides. This is not a slam on any of them - they are well-respected wine professionals and we are indebted to them for their contributions to the wine world. They are all great sources of information regarding wine, and we would look like fools if we tried to tread on their turf! Admittedly, we do have a hard time relating to some of their tasting notes, such as "hints of petrol", "nose of eucalyptus & tar", "nicely balanced smoke, earth, flint & slate", "chewy leather & cedar" and - our personal favorite - "aromas of wet wool & cat's pee"...Yummy...just makes you want to go out and buy a case.
  • A Weathertop Rating System. Again, we'll leave that to the professionals. Our philosophy is "90 Points is a State of Mind". Whatever you enjoy - drink it!
  • Reviews of 5o-year old Grand Cru Bordeaux. We can't afford it, so what would be the point? Only the pros get complimentary pours of these bad boys...
  • Reviews of high-volume, generic stuff (aka Yellow Tail...). If you like it, great, but you don't need us to talk about it. We want to highlight the stuff that, for not much more money, can put you in a different league. And the joy of finding those bargains is extremely satisfying!

We plan to keep it simple and, hopefully for you, enjoyable. We encourage you to go out to your favorite wine shop and purchase some of the wines we mention in future issues. Send us your comments - we'd love to hear what others think of our choices! We'd also love to hear about some of your personal favorites. After all, experiencing new wines is the whole point of this exercise.

For any wine we discuss, we will tell you the name of the distributor from whom we purchase. That way, if you don't see it on the shelf at your favorite wine shop, you'll be able to tell them where they can purchase the product for you (assuming you live in Vermont or frequent a shop in Vermont...). According to Joerg Klauck of Vermont Wine Merchants, one of our favorite wine-exclusive distributors, most wine shops are happy to place custom orders for loyal customers, though you may have to contend with some order minimums.

Stay tuned for our first installment and, as always,