A Window Into Wine

July 26, 2011

For any industry to thrive, there must be infrastructure in place to support its maintenance and development. In the case of East Coast wine, an increasing number of educational outlets, quality control organizations, and winemakers’ consortiums are all valuable resources helping to bolster this quickly growing industry. There are many kinks to work out, however, if states like Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania hope to achieve as established a wine reputation as their West Coast counterparts.

Laws surrounding the production and sale of alcohol vary sometimes from county to county, and their complexities often prevent smaller start-up wineries from being able expand.

Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board is particularly archaic in its policies towards independent winery owners, often hampering the efforts of the ideal small business entrepreneur in a bourgeoning industry poised to bring revenue, employment, and tourism to a state in economic downturn. If anyone is wondering why people keep drinking California wines, I might point out a bill recently passed there setting aside $53 million dollars to further promote wineries, despite the state’s virtual bankruptcy. Although this sum seems a bit excessive, it is an example of how other American wine regions have benefited from the support of state institutions.

In Virginia, however, legislators have steadily begun to reform various agricultural and beverage control regulations to be more conducive to the wine industry. Simultaneously, Virginia Tech is on the brink of extending its viticultural degree to include an online program, making a quality wine education available to many more potential winemakers. In addition, Virginia’s wineries continue to find new ways to work together to evaluate and improve the quality of their products.

Virginia is now organized into six official AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas), a notable move towards industry coordination and quality control. This system of “appellations” is taken for granted in Europe, where strict regulations often dictate which varietals may be planted and how they are to be grown. There is much more freedom in the “New World,” but by grouping together certain areas with similar soil, elevation, climate, etc.— terroir, as they say in French—wineries can more effectively work together to develop the common characteristics that make their product stand out.

The majority of vines grown in Virginia are made up the world’s most popular grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay. In the past few years, however, some producers have built their reputation around varietals that they believe will set their region apart. In the Monticello AVA, for example, Barboursville Vineyards is thinking outside of the box. Set on the grounds of the beautiful Barbour Estate designed by Thomas Jefferson, Barboursville has planted Italian grapes such as Barbera and Nebbiolo, originally from the noble Piedmont region of Italy.

Though maybe not as deeply complex as some of the Italian versions, the relatively young Virginia vines result in well made, balanced, and elegant wines. Most importantly, they push forward the frontier, employing the kind of experimentation that leads to revolutionary discoveries. Also make sure not to miss their delectable Malvaxia dessert wine.

While Charlottesville has the hotter growing season mimicking that of Italy or Bordeaux, the gentle hills of Northern Virginia are cranking out some spectacular vintages of grapes that can benefit from its cooler climate and continental breeze, such as Viognier and Cabernet Franc. I was impressed with the soft fruit and spicy finish of Breaux Vineyards’ 2006 “Lafayette” Cabernet Franc, as well as the well-structured 2009 vintage from year-old Paradise Springs Winery, currently building a new tasting room and winery facility in Clifton.

Surprisingly successful in multiple regions, Virginia’s Petit Verdot has been gaining notice from many national critics. Petit Verdot is poised to be to Virginia what Malbec is to Argentina. Both Petit Verdot and Malbec were originially used only for blending in the “Old World,” but have taken to their respective soils to produce some impressive and complex single-varietal wines. With common traits often more subtle and earthy than the bold fruit and classic flavors of other East Coast reds, Petit Verdot may be an acquired taste for some wine drinkers; but as wine and food culture continue to blossom in the Mid-Atlantic metropolitan areas, customers continue to expand their palates with a wider range of varietals, cultivating an appreciation for the vastness of style.
As more wineries continue to pop up throughout Virginia, it will be a challenge to maintain the quality reputation and cohesive marketing necessary to continue to advance in the global market. However, with open forums of communication within the business, and a little extra effort in funding and support from local customers and government institutions, the perception of Virginia wine will be no different from any other respected region in the world.

Sip of the Day

Pollack Vineyards 2008 Petit Verdot

This wine is full of soft black fruits and rich earthy notes of bramble and spice. While some Petit Verdots ere on the side of harshness, Pollack’s effort displays soft tannins and a smooth finish as a result of careful handling and minimal barrel aging in 100% French oak. Let it aerate a bit before drinking and pair with a flavorful red meat such as leg of lamb.

Caroline Jackson is the Assistant Winemaker at Blair Vineyards in Eastern Pennsylvania. She has a degree in English and a background in wine retail. Visit her blog, Sips and Sounds, which pairs daily music selections with a wine or craft beer.

A Window Into Wine: We’re Just Getting Started

Winemaking is one of the fastest-growing agricultural industries in the Mid-Atlantic area. Due to the rapid mutual progression of viticultural expertise and the knowledge and interest from the regional consumer in food and wine culture, it seems like new wineries are popping up everyday.

Just in case you were thinking about quitting your salaried day job and following your passion for Pinot to join the ranks of budding winemakers, I’d like to address a few of the many decisions and risks one must face when embarking upon such a venture. Winemaking is not for the faint of heart; it takes a unique balance of unflagging diligence and zen-like patience, not to mention a shockingly large sum of capital.

As any winemaker will tell you, it all starts in the vineyard. It is an oft-quoted adage that one can easily make bad wine out of good grapes, but great wine cannot be made without exceptional fruit. There are many horticultural nuances that contribute to a well tended versus poor quality vineyard, but the first principal of viticultural potential is that of site selection. Although wineries may grow their own estate vines or buy grapes from several different vineyards, it is up to the winemaker to find sites with the best climatic and topographical characteristics possible for the chosen variety of grape.

The most influential factors are soil composition and drainage, length of growing season, and elevation and slope of the plot. Here on the East Coast, we cannot hope to emulate the hot, dry California summers, so it is essential that a vineyard has ample water drainage and maximum sun exposure. This means careful scouting and analysis before deciding where to grow or buy grapes.

With a source of fruit procured, the beginner winemaker is just getting started. Once the grapes get to the cellar, many parts of the process require highly specified and expensive equipment. When starting a new winery, it can be tricky to decide how ambitiously to plan; it takes a few years of vine growth to achieve full yields and therefore to know exactly how much wine you’ll be producing. This will then determine the number of tanks and barrels, the size of the grape press, the type of bottling set-up, and the sheer amount of man power and accessories needed.

For example, the winery I work for in Pennsylvania used a 1.5-ton capacity press in the rainy 2009 vintage for about 27 tons of grapes; the next year, we were certainly glad we had upgraded to a four-ton press when a healthy harvest yielded over 60 tons. The doubled production also necessitated about 50 new barrels. Some wineries on a budget may opt for alternatives such as oak chips, but a vinicultural purist sticking to barrel aging must then decide between the less expensive but often more aggressive American Oak or spending up to $1,000 each for what many deem the more elegant effects of French Oak barrels.

Another tricky issue for any fermented product is that of temperature maintenance. Most yeasts require an environment over 60 degrees to get started; then individual tanks may need to be cooled down once fermentation gets rolling. In addition, barrels may need to stay at moderate temperatures to go through secondary malolactic fermentation, while wine in stainless steel holding tanks should be kept cooler. This can prove to be quite a challenge without well designed architecture and complex cooling and heating systems.

Aside from choosing material resources, there are thousands of other small decisions that determine the outcome of the wine — how long to age, how often to rack, how fine to filter, etc. — and most will depend on the winemaker’s philosophy and stylistic goals. Do you have a winery that makes a wide range of styles and varietals, or a more boutique operation that focuses its energy on only one or two grapes? Is your goal to make a solid product that most people can afford and enjoy, or will your line-up consist of highly refined wines in smaller production at inevitably higher prices?

A winery’s overarching mission statement will also determine the set-up of the tasting room and the kind of customer experience it will attempt to provide. Are events at the winery mostly upscale dinners with some quiet jazz for ambience, or do you regularly see a bluegrass band on the lawn with some casual catering? It is imperative for any business to determine the personality it hopes to exude to the consumer, but it is especially important in an industry where the competition is growing at such a rapid rate.

As we’ve seen on the West Coast, it is possible for multiple wineries in a small radius to all flourish concurrently if each is able to target a niche in the market and then work together with their counterparts to provide a diversified experience within the common vein of shared terroir and regionalism. Similarly in the past few years, we have seen the success of the Eastern wine industry increase with the number of wineries – a good sign on the path to becoming the world’s next wine destination.

Sip of Day
Paradise Springs Viognier
13.2 % Alc, $25

Paradise Springs is a brand new winery in the beautiful town of Clifton, VA. With two vintages under their belt and a new tasting room under construction, they seem to be taking all the necessary steps to increase in both quality and sales potential. This Viognier is surprisingly smooth and balanced, with notes of ripe white fruit on the front of the palate that provides body and richness without the residual sugar.

The Barrachina Piña Colada

The Caribe Hilton is one of the most well established resorts in all of Puerto Rico. The hotel is set on the edge of San Juan on its own peninsula amid a lush tropical garden and private beach. It rose to prominence in the 1950s for its famous guests, including Gloria Swanson, Elizabeth Taylor and John Wayne. It even garnered a mention in Hunter S Thompson’s first novel, “The Rum Diaries.”

The holiday spot has also earned its spot in cocktail history as the birthplace of the piña colada. Before my visit to San Juan, I learned from my Frommer’s guidebook that the piña colada was created in 1954 by bartender Ramon “Monchito” Marrero at the Hilton’s Beachcomber bar. Marrero spent three months mixing, tasting and discarding hundreds of combinations until he felt he had the right blend. It’s been estimated that some 100 million piña coladas have been sipped around the world since then.

The resort boasts two watering holes — a casual outdoor grill with a swim-up bar and the sleek and stylish Oasis Bar, complete with a floor-to-ceiling glass view of the churning Atlantic sea. However, I thought the most fitting way to sample the piña colada would be to have one delivered by a handsome cabana boy on my beach chair at the Hilton’s exclusive lagoon.

The drink was frothy and sweet. It provided an ample antidote to the scorching Caribbean sun. For a girl who is accustomed to drinking martinis, the recipe was did not pack much of a punch, but its flavor was enhanced by the glamorous beauty surrounding me.

Later in the week, as I wandered through the streets of Old San Juan, I came across the Barrachina restaurant with a plaque mounted outside, boldly stating “The House where the Piña Colada was created in 1963.” Intrigued, I headed inside to a bar in the garden courtyard and ordered one.

According to the Barrachina, the piña colada was invented when the Barrachino’s owner met Spaniard Ramon Portas Mingot, who had worked in some of the finest bars in Buenos Aires, during a trip to South America. Mr. Barrachina hired Mingot as head bartender. While experimenting, Mingot mixed pineapple juice, coconut cream, condensed milk and ice in a blender, creating the drink known as the pina colada. I guess they’re always two sides to history.

The drink at Barrachina was thicker and creamier. The lovely courtyard lined with tropical plants and wrought iron exuded a graceful ambiance that fit in with the charm of Old San Juan. Barrachina’s cocktail had more of a rum kick and the price was bit easier on my wallet. Given a choice between the two, I preferred Barrachina’s version. Still, there’s something to be said for having your cocktails delivered by a suave young man on a private beach.

The Barrachina piña colada
48 ounces pineapple juice
15 ounces of coconut cream
10 ounces water

Blend ingredients, but do not mix with ice. Instead, freeze the mix, stirring occasionally until it reaches a slushy consistency, or by using an ice cream maker. Pour rum to taste in individual glasses and add frozen mix. Decorate with cherry and pineapple.

Ingredients to make a piña colada can be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M St. in Georgetown.

Stirred, Not Shaken

The steak and martini is a classic food and cocktail pairing. It’s something your grandfather would have ordered at an old boy’s club steakhouse, and it’s something you would feel comfortable ordering today with a cut of Japanese wagyu beef.

So it was no surprise that the martini and its various incarnations were highlighted during a recent mixology seminar at Georgetown’s Bourbon Steak restaurant. Bourbon Steak’s bartender Duane Sylvestre taught the class, in which guests received a primer on basic bar techniques, an overview of various spirits and the history behind many cocktails.

The martini, according to Sylvestre, is one of the most misunderstood cocktails. The classic martini consists of gin and dry vermouth, stirred and served with either olives or a lemon twist. But over the years, the drink has transformed into different things.

The vodka martini, in particular, has evolved from its original form. While a traditional vodka martini should be made with vermouth, Sylvestre says that most vodka drinkers prefer theirs without. However, many people mistakenly order an extra dry vodka martini, believing that the term means “no vermouth,” when it actually means the opposite.

A “dry” martini refers to the addition of dry vermouth. This term came into play years ago as a way to distinguish the martini from its forerunner, the Martinez, which was a gin and sweet vermouth mixture. Therefore, the term “dry” came to mean dry vermouth and extra dry came to signify extra vermouth.

Even though James Bond has dictated the martinis should be shaken, not stirred, Sylvestre is a stickler for stirring. His rule is that any cocktails containing only alcoholic ingredients, such as gin and vermouth, should always be stirred, while drinks that include non-alcoholic mixers should be shaken.
However, he makes an exception with vodka martinis. “Most vodka drinkers want their vodka cold and served straight up,” he says so he lets the market dictate how the drink is prepared.
After making a vodka martini for the crowd, Duane mixed a classic gin martini with a twist using Plymouth gin, which he calls a mild and agreeable gin. “It’s going to add complexity, depth and character,” he said, “without the gin taking over the cocktail.”

The choice of garnish — either an olive or lemon twist — is a simple matter of taste, unless you are ordering a dirty martini, which includes olive juice.

Duane taught the class how to make a lemon garnish by using a vegetable peeler. After cutting the peel from the fruit, he stretched the skin around the rim of the glass in order to extract the citrus oils before dropping it into the martini.

When I got a chance to sample the finished tipple I could see the citrus oils floating in the drink. The added hint of lemon provided a refreshing twang combined with the gin and vermouth. The timeless classic was an ideal balance of bitter, citrus, dry and sweet.

Gin Martini
2 ounces Plymouth gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
Stir well. Serve in a martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel or olives.

Readers may sample the martini at Bourbon Steak restaurant, located in the Four Seasons Hotel at 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. Ingredients to make the martini may be purchased at Dixie Liquor, 3429 M St.

The Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail

The Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC), along with Mr-Booze.com and Giramondo Wines Adventures, recently sponsored a “Cocktail Class for Beginners” at the Embassy Hilton in Washington. The event, hosted by MOTAC founding member Phil Greene, started off with a lecture about the history of cocktails.

According to MOTAC, the word cocktail was first defined in 1806 in the Balance and Columbian Repository, a newspaper in upstate New York. The word cocktail was used in reference to an article about a recent election.

At that time, politicians on the campaign trail would spend lots of money on alcohol, essentially buying votes by having a really good party. The newspaper published a tongue-in-cheek article about how much a particular candidate spent, even though he lost. This was the first recorded use of the word “cocktail,” and after this article was published, the editor felt compelled to define the word as

“A stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters, it is vulgarly called a bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion inasmuch as it renders the heart stout at the same time fuddles the head. It is said also to be of great use to a democratic candidate because a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow anything else.”

For decades later, a cocktail was just that — a spirit and bitters diluted with water and sugar to take the edge off. This simple recipe may sound familiar to anyone who has enjoyed the cocktail known as the Old Fashioned.

Originally, the name “Old Fashioned” referred to any old–fashioned style cocktail such as a martini or Manhattan. Some people believe that Colonel James E. Pepper, a bourbon distiller and bartender at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, KY, created the Old Fashioned cocktail. What is more likely, according to Greene, was that the term “Old Fashioned” was applied to the drink known as a “Whiskey Cocktail.”

Next, Greene demonstrated the ease of making this primitive cocktail, which follows the same definition published in 1806 — liquor, sugar, water and Angostura bitters. While Phil used a muddler to ensure the sugar was fully dissolved, he also suggested substituting simple syrup. For an added flavor boost, Phil squeezed a lemon peel over the mixed drink, releasing its essential oils, before dropping it in as a garnish. He also noted that nowadays bartenders will sometimes muddle an orange slice or other fruit into the mixture.

While many modern drinkers may see this potable as downright “old-fashioned,” perhaps this granddaddy of cocktails deserves a second look. Its rudimentary formula has served as a building block for numerous contemporary drinks. The Old Fashioned’s straightforward composition and uncomplicated taste make it a refreshing alternative to many of the overly sweet and convoluted concoctions we see on so many restaurant menus today.

The Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail
1 sugar cube (1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon water
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ounces rye (or bourbon) whiskey

Muddle sugar, water and bitters together until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Fill glass with ice, then add whiskey. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

For more information about upcoming seminars go to www.museumoftheamericancocktail.com or www.mr-booze.com. Ingredients to make the Old Fashioned cocktail may be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M Street in Georgetown.

The Stone Fence

What would you think if a man named Mr. Booze lived next door to you? Would you be concerned or curious? Or delighted, like the residents of Jerry Lenoir’s neighborhood? Jerry, along with his business partner Bill Flannery, is the man behind the super fun and retro-hip Mr-Booze Web site.

Jerry’s home has turned into the local gathering spot. “I love making cocktails and entertaining guests” he gleamed, “I know all my neighbors .”

The Mr-Booze Web site is a pleasant trip back in time when home bars were the norm and fashionable people enjoyed classic cocktails as soothing lounge music floated in the background. It pays tribute a time when martinis were martinis and drinks had names like the Old Fashioned and Singapore Sling.

Jerry has become quite an expert on entertaining over the years. “I fell in love with home bars when he was 8-years-old, watching “Bewitched.” Darren would come home and Samantha would make an ice-cold pitcher of martinis.”

His passion for cocktails continued throughout adulthood. “ In college while everyone else was drinking Natty Boh I was whipping up gin martinis,“ he recollected. “I found an apple crate and created a bar. Girls would come over. It was neat.”

The trend continued until he and his wife bought their current home. “I was getting depressed looking at houses, until I walked into the basement of one home and saw the built-in bar. I knew this was our house!”

Mr-Booze.com, along with the Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC), recently hosted a seminar at the Occidental Grill on how to set up a home bar. While Phil Greene, a founding member of MOTAC, covered the basics such as proper barware, liquors and mixers, Jerry focused how to make your personal watering hole into an enjoyable place to relax and socialize.

“Your home bar should be an oasis for you,” Jerry says, “a place where time stands still.” The Mr-Booze Web site is dedicated to teaching people how to create that classic cocktail vibe through décor, music, and lighting.

It features information about where to find bar accessories. Jerry recommends scouring eBay, antique shops, thrift stores and estate sales for items. His basement refuge is brimming with kitschy decorations, stemware, celebrity photos, cocktail menus and books. “Good cocktails lead to good conversation, Jerry says, “and good talk can often erupt from the bric-a-brac, souvenirs and what-nots that you have around your set-up.”

And because a drink enjoyed with a beautiful tune simply tastes better, Jerry’s Web site features reviews and recommendations for stimulating cocktail melodies. Most obviously, Mr-Booze.com is overflowing recipes, from cocktail classics to updates on old favorites.

During the seminar, Jerry fixed one of his favorite tipples, the Stone Fence — a fruity mixture of apple brandy, cider and angostura bitters. Jerry discovered the drink in a 1912 recipe book and says it’s spiced apple flavor makes it a perfect elixir an for upcoming fall day. Mix one for yourself or make a large batch and invite your neighbors.

The Stone Fence
3 oz Lairds Applejack
3-4 dashes Angostura bitters
Apple Cider

Fill tall glass or mug with ice, add Applejack and bitters and stir. Fill glass with cider. Dust with nutmeg and serve with a swizzle stick.

For more information visit www.mr-booze.com or www.museumoftheamericancocktail.org. Ingredients to make the Stone Fence may be purchased at Dixie Liquor (3429 M St.) in Georgetown.

Cocktail of the Week

Root beer conjures up pleasant childhood memories for most people. Whether it’s thoughts of a simpler time and a tall frothy mug at a soda fountain café or a creamy root beer float on a hot summer day, many of these remembrances take us back to our younger days.

While liquor companies have tried to corner the adult market for root beer with sugary schnapps and cloying sweet vodkas, it wasn’t until recently that a truly mature twist on this youthful treat was available.

The same company who revolutionized the gin world with their multi-layered botanical rich Hendrick’s gin has created Root liqueur, which is based on the historical recipe for root beer.

According to Root’s website, ArtInTheAge.com, root beer can trace its origins back to the 1700’s. Back then it was called root tea, a folk recipe made with birch bark, wintergreen and other wild roots and herbs. The recipe was passed from the Native Americans to the colonial settlers. As the years went on, it grew in potency and complexity especially in Pennsylvania where the ingredients grew naturally in abundance.

Root beer did not become commercially successful until it was discovered by Charles Hires, a Philadelphia pharmacist, who tried root tea while on his honeymoon in New Jersey in 1875. Hires worked in his laboratory to improve the flavor and remove the alcohol, and then reduced it to a powdery concentrate that could be mixed in drug stores. He began serving his beverage cold, instead of hot.

Have you ever wondered have why root beer is called “beer?” According to Art in the Age, Hires called his beverage root “beer” so that hard working Pennsylvania coal miners and steel workers would enjoy the beverage in place of an alcoholic one.

Hires’ root beer made its debut at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876, where it was touted as “the greatest health-giving beverage in the world.” Sales took off. By the 1890’s Hires began selling the concoction in pre-mixed bottles.

Cocktail of the Week

July 12, 2011

Saint Mark’s Square, The Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge are must-see sights for visitors to Venice, Italy. Another top attraction for foodies, literary types and cocktail lovers is Harry’s Bar.

Many know the famed watering hole as a hangout for celebrities including Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen. Harry’s made also its mark in the culinary word when they invented carpaccio, a dish of thinly sliced raw beef.
But Harry’s most enduring gastronomical contribution may be the Bellini, a bubbly cocktail fashioned from white peach puree and Prosecco, a dry Italian sparkling wine.

According to their website, HarrysBarVenezia.com, the landmark bar was opened in 1931 by Giuseppe Cipriani, a bartender at Venice’s Hotel Europa, after he received financial assistance from a rich, young American named Harry Pickering.

Cipriani named his famous tipple after Giovanni Bellini, the fifteenth century Venetian artist, because the color of the drink resembled the pink glow in one of Bellini’s paintings.

Arrigo Cipriani, Guiseppe’s son, discusses his father’s innovation in his book “Harry’s Bar: The Life and Times of the Legendary Venice Landmark.”

“Peaches are in abundance throughout Italy from June through September, and my father had a predilection for the white ones. He experimented by puréeing small white peaches and adding Prosecco,” he writes. “Those who tested this new concoction gave it rave reviews.” Since then, this evanescent sipper has become an elegant brunch staple across the globe.
The general rule for mixing a Bellini is to use one part peach puree to three parts Prosecco. While it’s best to use fresh white peaches, commercially prepared brands are acceptable.

If you are making your own puree, Harry’s website advises not to use a food processor because it aerates the fruit. They recommend shredding the peaches with a cheese grater and using a strainer to collect the maximum amount of juice. If the peach mixture is too sour, add a splash of simple syrup or sugar.

Harry’s is perched on the water, a quick stroll from St Mark’s. When my mother and I made our cocktail pilgrimage there, we arrived in the evening as a golden light streamed though the decorative windows.

The crowded bar was small and decorated in wood and butterscotch hues. While there was a certain austerity about the place, it was teeming full of tourists, guidebooks in hand. The room was filled and mom and I seemed to get lost among the other patrons. When we finally received our Bellinis, they were served in simple juice glasses, not the fancy flutes that usually hold champagne cocktails.

The elixir was light with a refreshing simplicity. Its balance of dry and sweet made for a lovely aperitif. While I enjoyed sampling the original, it didn’t taste any more special than the Bellinis, I have enjoyed at Paparazzi or Brasserie Beck back home in D.C.

However when the bill arrived, I realized the high price for my sip of history. Each Bellini cost 18 Euro or about $52 for two after the conversion. While I wasn’t expecting “happy hour” pricing in notoriously expensive Venice, mom and I decided to put our next $50 toward a nice bottle of wine and dinner at less famous, less crowded and quiet restaurant.

The Bellini
1.5 oz White Peach Puree
4.5 oz Prosecco

Add puree to glass. Slowly add Prosecco, gently blending with long spoon.

Dixie Liquor, 3429 M Street NW sells a variety of Proseccos.

Cocktail of the Week

June 13, 2011

A perfectly crafted cocktail can be considered a work of art. But what about a tipple inspired by a work of art? At Café Atlántico, already known as one of the premier spots in Washington for handmade cocktails, the “The Daisy If You Do” was sparked by Frederic Remington’s sculpture ”Off the Range (Coming Through the Rye).”

The drink, conceived by lead bartender Owen Thomson, was created for an annual competition held at the Corcoran gallery. The city-wide cocktail competition, poetically named Artini, called on area mixologists to invent a potable inspired by a piece in the Corcoran’s collection. Thomason was assigned Remington’s sculpture.

The piece is an animated representation of the Old West, consisting of four rowdy cowboys shooting off their guns while rollicking their way on horseback. The sculpture invokes the rugged, bronco-busting spirit of adventure and wrangler masculinity.

Thomson’s coordinating cocktail does not disappoint. The ingredient list is one of carefully calculated vision – leather-infused tequila, 16-year-old single malt Scotch, lemon, and St. Germain elderflower liqueur flavored with toasted rye.

When Thomson first examined the sculpture, he immediately thought of crafting a drink with either leather or gunpowder. He decided leather would be a fun flavor to work with because it is often used a descriptive term for tasting wines or liquors.

However the difficult part, it turned out, was not finding a way to infuse the leather flavor into liquor but finding the actual leather. According to Thomson, most commercial methods of tanning are chemically based, but originally, leather was made using vegetable oils. Thomson had to track down a saddle-maker in Tennessee who still tans hides using this traditional method. Once he acquired the food-safe leather he steeped it in tequila overnight to impart a smoldering woody flavor that combines beautifully with the smoky agave.

The drink is formulated after the classic daisy cocktail – which is essentially a basic sour (liquor, citrus and sweeter,) topped with soda water. The “Daisy If You Do” moniker is borrowed from a line from the legendary gunslinger Doc Holliday.

For the citrus portion of the drink Thomson uses fresh lemon juice, and for the sweetener, St Germaine elderflower liquor. In order to match Remington’s sculpture title of “Coming through the Rye,” Thomson, toasts rye berries then soaks them in the liqueur for three days. While St Germain normally has a cloying honeysuckle flavor the rye infusion tempers the liqueur with toasty orange-like nuance. Thomson finishes his work with a dash of Lagavulin 16-year Scotch which yields rich peaty finish.

While the name Daisy sounds delicate, this is definitely a drink worthy of a beefy cowboy. Thomson’s piece boasts a multi-layered, slightly sweet, yet deep smoky flavor without becoming heavy. It has the substance to stand up to a Texas-size steak, but light enough to be refreshing in the summer heat.

Daisy If You Do

1 1/2 oz Leather infused tequila
3/4 oz. St Germain infused with toasted rye
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
Dash of Lagavulin 16-year-old Scotch
Soda water.

Combine first four ingredients in a tall glass, top with soda water, and garnish with a lemon twist.

Readers may try the Daisy If You Do at Café Atlantic located at 405 8th Street NW Washington DC. Tequila, St Germaine and Lagavulin Scotch may be purchased at Dixie Liquor in Georgetown.

A Window Into Wine

June 10, 2011

If there is one tool most vital in propelling the East Coast wine industry towards a West Coast level of prestige, that instrument is education. This applies for both the consumer and the producer. As the next generation of winemakers gains a more extensive understanding of the science behind the techniques, the Mid-Atlantic States are producing wine of an increasingly high caliber. Simultaneously, the desire of the consumer to learn more about tasting, pairing, and international wine continues to spread, guiding the entire regional industry towards a more sophisticated focus.

In response to this progression there are more opportunities for wine education in the East than ever before. Because of the wide array of classes, programs, and certificates now available, it can be confusing to differentiate between types of training. Whether you are a potential viticulturalist, a sommelier-in-training, or merely hoping to feel a little more confident perusing a restaurant’s wine list, there are finally accessible programs geared to your goals.

In 1880, the University of California Davis launched the very first accredited Viticulture and Enology program in the United States, only to be shut down in 1919 with the establishment of Prohibition. The department was reinstated in 1935, and for years it remained the only prominent resource for a comprehensive education in winemaking or grape growing within the US. Gradually, a few other West Coast institutions also began offering degrees in the field, but it wasn’t until 2008 that Cornell reformed its long-running viticultural research division into its own freestanding department, becoming the first Enology and Viticulture degree in the East. This was an essential step not only for the education of future winemakers, but also in the acquisition of expertise and the establishment of a venue for research specific to local conditions.

The quality of East Coast wine has greatly benefited from this resource, directly apparent in the advancement of vineyard management and winemaking techniques. But only recently have other Universities in the region begun to offer alternative programs. Virginia Tech now offers an Enology and Viticulture concentration within its Food Science and Technology department, and just this year the community college in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania began accepting students to its new undergraduate department. Most programs now offer online extension courses as well.

If you are more interested in the sale, service, or discerning consumption of wine, there are often multiple privately owned wine schools in any metropolitan area. There are a few “academies” right in D.C. that offer a variety of educational opportunities for anyone, from the casual buyer to the aspiring professional. Both the Capitol Wine School and the Washington Wine Academy offer classes connected with the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust), which provides a widely accepted measure of proficiency. Generally, one can earn WSET Certificates at the Intermediate or Advanced Level, which can be helpful if you hope to get a job at a restaurant or wine retail store.

These programs usually charge an entry fee specific to the certificate level you’re aiming for, and then may have classes once a week or so for several weeks. The classes may start out with more general tutorials on global wine regions and basic winemaking knowledge, but will progress toward more specific tasting comparisons of different varietals and styles.

Additionally, the WSET also offers a more official Diploma, which is often considered the first step towards becoming a Master of Wine. This distinction is achieved by only a handful of people in the world and takes an additional minimum of three years to complete. The Master of Wine exam is said to be an arduous ordeal of essays and taste tests, including a section that requires the participant to name the vintage, region, and exact producer of several wines in a completely blind tasting—a sort of ultimate wine challenge.

Sounding a little beyond your personal ambition? Are you looking for a more recreational atmosphere, where you might choose to learn about a selected topic now and then? As the industry recognizes the growing consumer interest in a deeper understanding of wine, some wine-focused restaurants and boutique retail shops are offering their own classes and educational events. One example can be found at the Philadelphia-based wine, beer and tapas bar Tria. With three locations downtown as well as a separate “classroom” location, Tria’s staff hosts educational seminars often focused on a different varietal each week, as well as periodic food-pairing classes and specialty flight tastings that you can sign up for in packages or as a one-time experience.

Despite this plethora of available outlets, the best place to start is at your local wine shop or wine bar. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I guarantee you that most wine industry employees live for those moments when they can “nerd out” over their passion for vino with a customer who is genuinely interested in the subject. People get into the business because they love to drink, learn about, and talk about wine—they’re sure not in it for the money, I can tell you that much—and I think you may be surprised at the enthusiasm and aptitude that may be sitting right there at the corner store.

Caroline Jackson now works for Chehalem Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. She has a degree in English and a background in East Coast wine sales and winemaking. Visit her blog, Sips and Sounds, which pairs daily music selections with a wine or craft beer.