Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wine on the Horizon--Fort Collins Wine Fest

The temperature was dropping, and large, wet, white snowflakes had just started drifting slowly from the sky.  In the distance, the beautiful white-topped Rockies could be spotted hovering over the brown grass of the plains.  However, it was not the snow or those beautiful mountains with ski slopes we were rolling into Fort Collins to enjoy…it was wine, the Fort Collins Wine Fest to be exact!  This was our third consecutive year of enjoying the festival, which is a wonderful fundraiser for Fort Collins’ Disabled Resource Services.  We have greatly enjoyed every year, and one of the special treats is an amazing private wine tasting put on before the actual festing and feasting starts.  This year’s private tasting was as amazing as ever, with a mix of wines from all over the world that were as majestic as the Rocky Mountains on the horizon! 

Wine one:  Marc Hebrart Brut Rose non-vintage Champagne—This sparkler from a small producer was a beautiful baby pink with strong yeast and strawberry aromas.  The mineral and crisp bite was a pleasure, and the incredibly long finish was even better.  This bubbly was a mix of the classic champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinto Meunier and was a classic tasting beauty!

Wine two:  Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils Mersault “Les Clous” 2006—This white Burgundy ages quite well, and though this ’06 could still cellar a few more years, it had a great mineral aroma.  With some butter on the palette from the old oak yet a crisp, citrus finish, I enjoyed this single vineyard Chardonnay, especially with the soft cow’s  milk cheese provided by the local cheese mongers at the Welsh Rabbit in FoCo. 

Wine three:  Prince Florent De Merode Corton Renardes 1990—From the excellent 1990 vintage, the Corton is slightly cloudy, with baked cherry, anise, and leather flavors and scents.  I am a sucker for a good Pinot Noir, and this Noir from the Cote De Beaune was a great example of a Burgundian Pinot. The fact that this bottle would retail for $350 a bottle had nothing to do with the how much I enjoyed it! 

Wine four:  Tondonia Gran Reserva 1994—Talk about a special wine!  This Rioja was produced in 1994, but not released until 2012.  No, I didn’t do the math incorrectly there (though as an English teacher by day, you all have the right to question my expertise with numbers).  This wine is aged in cask (in French and American old oak) for nine years and then in bottle for nine more years.  I love the Tempranillo grape, and this blend of 75% Tempranillo, 15% Garanche, and 10% other was filled with supple and smooth fruit.  An excellent wine and value for the aging time (at around $100 a bottle), Robert Parker gave this very high 90s scores (not that we go by Parker necessarily; however, it does show the respect for this wine). 

Wine five:  Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Bricco Bussia Vigna Colonnello 1989—By far my favorite wine, the Barolo was bursting with baked fig, as if there was a Fig Newton in my glass as I sniffed.  Of course, I love, love, love Nebbiolo, and this beautiful brick-red colored wine cemented that love once again.  From an excellent, “old school” producer and a great vintage, I would have loved to drink this entire bottle to myself (over the course of several days though, of course)!  The $400 price tag?  Yes, that is always my luck; I seem to have very expensive tastes! 

Wine six:  Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2003—From the Puac in Medoc, this Bordeaux blend starts with 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and the remaining a blend of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot.  On the nose, the 2003 showed hints of earth, currant, green pepper, and smoke, and on the palette fresh berries.  Though this wine has already aged for ten years, it could still cellar two or three more and be a great example of a red Bordeaux.  (Retail?  A cool $500!)

Wine seven:  Caymus Special Edition 1992—My emotional favorite, I actually bought a bottle of this last year at the wine fest because it was a 1992, the year my daughter was born.  My husband and I opened the bottle on her twentieth birthday last summer and toasted to her and our parenthood!  It is a classic California Cabernet (blended from Cab grapes from eight of Napa’s sub appellations) with an aroma of spice and earth and tastes of berry, spice, and cedar.  It was perfectly aged and timed exactly to drink.

Wine eight:  Joseph Phelphs Insignia 1998—Another classic California Cabernet Sauvignon with a beautiful, almost-black, undertone, the Phelphs smelled like baked cherry and fig.  The very fruit-forward wine would age well for three-four more years since it is from an excellent producer.

Wine nine:  Elderton Command Shiraz 2004—As the only Australian wine represented in our tasting, the Shiraz made Australia look good!  From the Barrosa Valley (and from a very good vintage), the wine was filled with scents of green pepper, spice, and earth.  On the palette, this was a berry bomb with a wonderfully, long finish.  The style of this wine is exactly what Robert Parker likes, and he liked this one; he gave it a 98!

Wine ten:  Barros Vintage Port 1997—Though Ports are not my favorite (because hard liquor burns my throat—see my feelings about whiskey several weeks ago), I have learned to appreciate Port on several levels.  This Port was very special, since only two percent of Ports are actually vintage, and after the initial heat of the brandy, the lovely raisin taste was incredibly smooth.  I imagined my chocolate pot de crème recipe as I sipped this final wine. 

The beautiful and wondrous Rocky Mountains make a superb backdrop for some beautiful and wondrous wines.  Though the picturesque snow storm caused some road blocks to the event and weekend, there was nothing blocking the ten wines we were able to enjoy.  This tasting was just the beginning of a great night filled with three of my favorite things:  wine, food, and shopping!  Look for the explanation to that coming soon…

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March Madness--Keg and Cork

Yes, March Madness directly relates to basketball, but in my life, the month of March is just plain crazy!  Luckily, this craziness often lets me blend together a basketball schedule and wine fun!  When in Casper a few weeks ago, getting bleacher butt from the basketball madness, I took time out to relax while enjoying some wine.  My first stop was my favorite wine establishment in Casper, Vintage.  I have reviewed them before and just love the ambiance, food, and wine.  However, I also decided to visit the newest wine and beer establishment in Casper, Keg and Cork.

See my previous blog post about Vintage here:

When I stopped the second weekend in March, Keg and Cork had only been open for a few weeks.  The owners of this new business also own another of Casper’s popular watering holes, Galloway’s Irish Pub on the other side of town.  I had heard about both spots, and I stopped in for a quick lunch on a Saturday afternoon, thinking the bar would be fairly quiet and slow.  As I walked in the door, I was surprised to see the door sign say no one under 21 could even enter.  In Wyoming, children are allowed to go in establishments that sell liquor as long as the children are with parents and it is before a certain time in the evening.  Keg and Cork wants to keep up a certain vibe, so no children at all are allowed.  It is an interesting philosophy, and I can see how it would be attractive to many customers.  When I opened the door I saw how wrong I was in believing Keg and Cork might be slow because it was a Saturday.  The bar was packed with people eating, drinking, and watching sports. 

I sat at the bar and was quickly offered a food menu and asked for a wine menu.  The food menu read basic pub fare.  I ordered the chef’s salad and was not disappointed as the meal came out in a bowl the size of a trough for a barnyard animal.  The wine list was adequate.  Many of the choices were identical to Vintage, and though this bar specializes in both beer and wine (and is on the other side of town from Vintage), I would have liked to see some different vino options.  (Not sure if this was coincidence or the work of the same distributor through the state working for both establishments.  I could help remedy this problem quite easily! Wink, wink.) 

Though I would have loved to see more “cork” in Keg and Cork, “keg” does come first in its title, and avid beer drinkers will not be disappointed.  There are 28 microbrews available, plus the old standby options. There are also 9 beers from the state of Wyoming, which I really appreciated.  I originally thought that Keg and Cork was brewing its own beer and am just so surprised that no place in Casper--Wyoming’s second largest town at over 55,000 people--does this on a large scale.  (I’m told the Wonder Bar in downtown Casper has the ability, but doesn’t brew.)  Microbrewing is such a huge (and fun) culture right now, I would love to see Keg and Cork, or anyone, take this on for Casper consumers. 

The service was very friendly and quite brisk for the busyness of the bar.  I sat and visited with my neighbor at the bar whose burger looked and smelled delicious.  I was also able to meet and give my card to the manager (again…I could remedy the wine list issue…wink, wink), ending my overall experience at Keg and Cork in a very pleasant way.  I would love to revisit Keg and Cork this summer when my life is filled with much less madness—I’ve heard the outdoor seating area there can hold up to 150 people, and I’m a real sucker for a glass of wine on an outdoor patio!  Good luck on your new endeavor, Keg and Cork.  You helped my March Madness with a glass of wine and a good meal.  I will be back when I can have some summer stillness. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Move Over Wine…Wyoming Whiskey

Bring on the whiskey!  Shocking, to hear me say that, I know, but for a short period of time this past weekend, I became a bourbon whiskey connoisseur.  True, it was for a VERY short time, but while I was touring Wyoming Whiskey in Kirby, Wyoming (population 92, thank you very much) I was loving whiskey!

Wyoming Whiskey’s beautiful, multi-million dollar facility towers high above all other rooftops as one drives into Kirby.  The outer façade of the building is only the beginning of the impressiveness of this business.  Founders of Wyoming Whiskey wanted a product that would wow, so David DeFazio and Bradford Mead (brother to current Wyoming governor Matt Mead) looked for a distiller who knew what he was doing.  They lured Kentucky master distiller Steve Nally out of retirement (after distilling and retiring from Maker’s Mark) and to little old Kirby to begin producing bourbon in the Equality State.  Next, every master distiller needs a still, and Wyoming Whiskey doesn’t have just ANY still.  This still is a 38-foot-tall, vertical still made of copper by Vendome that was the first of its kind in the country.

That is a still we are standing with:  the Vendome vertical still.

To produce the whiskey in this state-of-the-art equipment, all the raw materials come from within one hundred miles of Kirby.  The corn, wheat, barley, and water don’t have far to travel.  The yeast is specifically chosen, and the barley travels the farthest to be mashed—to our neighbor state, Montana.  All of these ingredients ferment to produce a raw “beer” type of liquid.  (Not actual beer, but closer to beer at this point than whiskey.)  Getting to see this fermentation process up close was very interesting.  I paid special attention to similarities with wine but also enjoyed learning the differences.  It was a special treat when one of the vats of fermenting mash started to boil up from all of the heat and carbon dioxide being released.  It was like a living organism as it foamed and mulled around (which, I guess, it kind of is).  One could feel the heat, and when a nose was put close enough to the surface, the fumes of the CO2 gasses singed the nose hairs and burned the eyes!
The Wyoming ingredients used to make Wyoming Whiskey.

The CO2 gasses burning their noses!

The fermenting liquid.

This fermented liquid is put through the still, and then is turned into “white lightening,” or moonshine whiskey.  To become bourbon, this whiskey must be aged in new, American oak barrels for a minimum of two years.  Once the whiskey is in the toasted oak barrel, the barrel is branded and numbered, then taken to the “rick” house for aging.  Within the rick house, barrels must be turned and rotated over the course of the aging years to ensure balanced contact and aging in the oak.  Once ready, the bourbon is bottled on site, and then sent to the Wyoming State Liquor Division for distribution and sale.  The very first release of Wyoming Whiskey sold out from the state warehouse in about three minutes!  The second release is expected to go as fast, with pre-orders and the limited quantity available.

In the barreling room.

Once done with the very informative tour, our group went back to the gift shop for a sample.  This is how quickly my life as a bourbon connoisseur lasted:  until the liquor hit the back of my throat and burned all the way down!  In Wyoming Whiskey’s defense, I am not a hard liquor drinker; I am a wine drinker.  The 12-15% alcohol I am used to experiencing in the average wine I drink could not prepare me for the 44 proof bourbon!  On the tip of my tongue, the whiskey had a very pleasing taste though.  I also thought the amber color of the liquid was beautiful.  However, I am not a whiskey drinking lady, so I will stick with my wine.  That said, those drinkers that enjoy bourbons and whiskeys, please try Wyoming Whiskey…if you can find a bottle for sale!  It is a hot commodity, and I look forward to seeing how many drinkers out there will say, “Bring on the Wyoming Whiskey!”