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  • Herbal Liqueurs: Badel Pelinkovac

    Posted: 2022-12-02 06:00

    Badel Pelinkovac Gorki is the oldest and most famous Croatian herbal liqueur that was first crafted by Franjo Pokorny in 1871 at the Zagreb Liquor Factory in Zagreb. This factory had been founded eleven years earlier (hence Badel 1862) and Pokorny had purchased it to expand his production of liqueurs and Sljivovica. Pokorny was such a tenacious salesman, that he was able to expand sales throughout Europe - particularly to the Hapsburgs in Vienna and the French Imperial court of Napoleon III - the nephew of Napoleon I and the last French monarch. 

    In 1886, the Zagreb Liquor Factory expanded and added the Patria distillery to its company. Patria was making fine liqueurs and its most famous Patria Medicinal Brandy which was sold in pharmacies and is known today as Badel Brandy. In 1947, after World War II, three distilleries combined to form the  Zagreb factory of Liqueurs and Wines. These were Pokorny's Zagreb Liquor Factory and Patria distilleries and the A. A Baker & Co. Two years after this the Arko factory (a family operation that originally opened in 1861 and produced sparkling wines, brandy, and liqueurs) is added to the conglomerate. In 1950, the factory was renamed Marijan Badel. In 1991, with more mergers, a new company is formed: Badel 1862.

    Badel Pelinkovac is produced according to a traditional maceration method where selected curative herbs from the Velebit mountain, with the dominant herb Pelin (lat. Artemisia Absinthium or in English Wormwood), are soaked in high-quality grain alcohol and then left to age in wooden barrels for several weeks. A percentage of the produced macerate is then distilled in copper pot stills and finally, the distillate and the macerate are blended into Badel Pelinkovac. In fact, as we learned from master blender Vesna Jurak in the video below, Badel 1862 employs the 3rd oldest pot still in the world. The final alcohol content ranges from 28% to 35% by volume.

    The spirit starts with a savory pine tar and mint aroma, is slightly bitter, and then transitions to the sweeter side. It's minty throughout with some orange rind and a lengthy finale.

  • Herbal Liqueurs: Zwack Unicum

    Posted: 2022-12-01 09:13

    In 1790, Habsburg ruler Joseph II had a bout of indigestion, and asked Dr. József Zwack, royal physician to the Imperial Court, for a remedy. Dr. Zwack offered the Holy Roman Emperor a sip of an herbal digestive and which Joseph II responded, "Das ist ein Unikum!" ("This is unique!")

    I've had my share of indigestion over the years and instead of popping Gaviscon like candy or taking Omeprazole, I've decided to look at herbal remedies - and specifically - herbal liqueurs as a digestive. And there's no better place to start than Hungarian Unicom from a bottle purchased in 2001.  

    Fifty years after this encounter with Joseph II, József Zwack founded the J Zwack & Co., and the first herb liqueur made under the name “Unicum” and using the same recipe occurred on May 22, 1883. The round bottle contained the recognizable red circle and gold cross on its belly implying its medicinal value.  As demand increased son Lajos moved the distillery to its present location in 1892. By 1926, Zwack Lajos’s sons, Béla Zwack and János Zwack had both joined the Company. 

    During WWII, Budapest was one of the most bombed cities in Europe, and the distillery was completely destroyed. After the war, during which the family lived in a cellar with two unexploded bombs over their heads, János and Béla, completely rebuilt the factory using the most modern technology available at the time. When, in 1948, the firm was finally ready to resume production at pre-war levels, the newly instated Communist government confiscated everything the family possessed with no compensation and "the world as I knew it", to quote Péter Zwack, János's son, "came to an end". János fled to the West with the Unicum recipe in his breast pocket, having bribed the Russian drivers to take him across the border. Béla chose to remain in Hungary and was deported, together with thousands of other "class enemies", to eke out an existence on the Great Hungarian Plain. Péter Zwack took a train to the Yugoslav border and then walked his way to Trieste where, with an overwhelming surge of joy and relief, he saw the British fleet at anchor in the bay.

    When János Zwack arrived in the United States he discovered that the Communist State-run company was still exporting products to the USA under the Zwack name. He filed a court case against the importers and the government to retain the right to his family trademarks. In the end, he succeeded: in a precedent-setting ruling the State-run company was no longer allowed to use the name Unicum or Zwack in the West. 

    In 1988, Péter Zwack returned to Hungary and then, together with his partner, Emil Underberg of the German spirits dynasty, formed Péter Zwack und Consorten AG and later they entered into a joint venture with the State-run distillery. Four years later they founded Zwack Unicum Plc. after submitting a successful bid during the privatization process and were thus able to buy back the enterprise from the State.  Obviously, my bottle was produced during the Communist management of the distillery.

    Unicum is still produced using the same recipe as in 1790 which features over forty herbs. The majority of these herbs and spices come from the Carpathian basin, but ingredients are also imported from Morocco, China, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nigeria, the Americas, and Australia. The herbs are measured by hand to this day, while some special ingredients, known as the "heart” of Unicum, are personally weighed out by a family member, currently by Péter Zwack’s widow, Anne Marshall Zwack.

    In order to produce Unicum, half the herbs are macerated and the others are distilled and sometimes the same herb is both macerated and distilled. During maceration, the herbs are immersed in corn alcohol, a process that provides an intensive, rich flavor, The macerated and distilled herbs are then blended together in a traditional wooden vat. The spirit is then aged in oak casks, just like the 1790 version, and today the distillery employs 500 oak casks located in cellars under the Soroksári Road distillery

    And Unicom is complex. I got citrus, sweet orange rind, and pine notes on the nose. The palate is bitter, then turns a little sweet with licorice, ginger, and lemongrass notes. The finish is long, Very long. So far, no need for Gaviscon. Cheers. 

  • Grape Spotlight: Oltrepò Pavese DOC Pinot Nero and Others

    Posted: 2022-11-28 10:33
    Lombardy is one of Italy's largest and most populous regions and is located in the north-central part of the country. It consists of five DOCG, 21 DOC, and 15 IGP titles with the Oltrepò Pavese DOC being one of the larger and better-known regions. Oltrepò  Pavese refers to Pavia across the Po -- or more meaningful - the area south of the Po River. The region lies in southwest Lombardy and shares many common features with neighboring Piedmont as both regions were once ruled by the House of Savoy.

    Viticulture has been prevalent in Oltrepò Pavese for thousands of years as evidenced by the discovery of a fossilized caràsa, that is, a fossilized vine trunk, 25 cm long by 6 cm in diameter, found near Casteggio (Consorzio Tutela Vini Oltrepò Pavese). And why not. According to wine-searcher.com, "the vineyards of the Oltrepo zone sit among the foothills between the Apennines and the river Po in the provinces of Alessandria, Genoa, and Piacenza. The vines benefit from an excellent microclimate (thanks to its proximity to the Po), well-drained soils rich in clay and calcareous marl, and a terroir often compared to that of Barolo".  In 1884 Oltrepò Pavese was home to at least 225 native vines, but today there are just a dozen that are the most widespread.
     
    Last week I attended a fascinating lunch at Cafe Milano featuring wines from Oltrepò Pavese presented by Carlo Veronese, the director of the Consorzio Vini Oltrepò. Even though there are 20 classifications within Oltrepò Pavese, this tasting focused on the Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG, Oltrepò Pavese Pinot Grigio, Pinot Nero dell'Oltrepo Pavese, and Sangue di Giuda dell'Oltrepo Pavese. And notice that the wines of Oltrepò Pavese are generally named from the vines from which they are made and not just the region.
     
    Pinot Nero dell'Oltrepò Pavese DOC
    Oltrepò Pavese is considered the Pinot Nero (Noir) capital of Italy as more Pinot Nero is planted there than anywhere else in Italy. Interestingly, the original genotypes of Pinot Noir were already cultivated in the Oltrepò areas by the ancient Romans and may have been the source of Pinot Noir in the south of France. However, the current Pinot Noir vines derive from French selections that were planted after the Phylloxera epidemic. Pinot Nero can be labeled as a vintage wine or a Reserva with a minimum of two years of aging.

    The Cantina di Casteggio Pinot Nero Dell'Oltrepò Pavese DOC 2020 is a lighter style but with noticeable tannins and a little chewy mint.

    The Dino Torti Pinot Nero Dell'Oltrepò Pavese DOC 2019 was perhaps my favorite despite the interesting branding. It's floral with creamy red raspberries and cherries and a viscosity throughout.

    The Mazzolino Pinot Nero Dell'Oltrepò Pavese DOC 2018 was the biggest of the reds, aged twelve months in oak and offering a tea and pepper aroma, a full-bodied interior, with a firm and lasting finish.

    Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG
    Metodo classico is Italy's version of Champagne's methode classique and Pinot Nero is dominant in all wines made under this title.  The sparkling wine can be made either as a white or rosé and 70 percent or more of the final blend must be Pinot Nero. This percentage increases to 85 percent for wines claiming the varietal title Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico Pinot Nero.  Picked at the early stages of skin ripeness, Pinot Nero displays a good balance of acidity and sugar required for these sparkling wines.

    The Asburgico Oltrepò Pavese DOCG Metodo Classico Pinot Nero 2018 explodes in the mouth with textured citrus notes.

    The Azienda Agricola Quaquarini Francesco Oltrepò Pavese DOCG Metodo Classico Pinot Nero 2014 needed a few minutes to open then the floral, white grapefruit and a little tropic fruit notes rushed out.

    Oltrepò Pavese Pinot Grigio DOC
    This title applies to still and frizzante white wines containing at least 85 percent Pinot Grigio.

    The Vanzini Oltrepò Pavese Pinot Grigio DOC was an eye-opener on the region's richer style and orangish-colored versions of this varietal wine.

    Sangue di Giuda dell'Oltrepo Pavese DOC
    The title translates to "Blood of Judas" and applies to sweet red wines which can be still, frizzante (semi-sparkling), or spumante. Barbera and Croatina must each account for between 25 and 65 percent of any blend with Pinot Nero, Uva Rara, and Vespolina alone or in any combination, accounting for 45 percent. The intriguing and sometimes controversial name Sangue di Giuda means "Blood of Judah" or "Blood of Judas". 

    The Losito & Guarini Sangue Di Giuda Dell'Oltrepò Pavese DOC, C'era Una Volta 2021 is a low alcohol (6%), full-bodied, and fresh wine where the sweetness is partially obscured by the abundant acidity.

    Oltrepò Pavese Riesling
    The Ca Di Frara Oliva Oltrepò Pavese Riesling DOC also provides a darker copper color with tropical and petrol notes.

    Oltrepò Pavese Barbera
    The Ca Montebello Oltrepò Pavese Barbera DOC 2020 is fruit-forward, and very friendly with a floral start and a slight mocha tail.

  • Enjoy Beer, Wine, and Scenic Views from Hazy Mountain Vineyards & Brewery

    Posted: 2022-11-21 20:49

     


    We can all agree that every winery provides its own unique glorious view of the surrounding countryside and the views from Hazy Mountain Vineyards & Brewery are no exception. Except that it may provide the best mountain and valley views in Virginia, and arguably the entire East Coast.  The 35-acre estate vineyard off Afton Mountain is planted on south-facing slopes ranging in elevation from 800 feet to 1,140 feet within the Monticello AVA. And with amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Piedmont valleys.

    In addition to the estate vineyard, Hazy Mountain farms 50 acres in the cooler Shenandoah AVA west of Staunton, on the southeast-facing slopes of the west side of the Shenandoah Valley. The Little North Mountain Vineyard also houses their production facility. Thus Hazy Mountain offers wines from two distinct Virginia AVAs - cool climate Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, and Pinot Noir from the Shenandoah Valley and Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Verdot from Nelson County and the Monticello AVA.

    We stuck to the white wines and were very impressed with these cool climate varietal wines. We learned that the 2020 Chenin Blanc was fermented and aged in large French oak puncheons and aged on lees in a barrel for 11 months, providing rich fruit texture and a larger mouthfeel. Great acidity too. As did the 2019 Dry Riesling and 2020 Gruner Veltliner with the Riesling very light in the Kabinett style and the Gruner providing layers of white grapefruit. As for beer, go no further than the German Pilsner. Excellent. Can't wait to visit for a Nelson County Dark Skies night.

  • Virginia Cider Week & Cider Smackdown: Attack of the Crab

    Posted: 2022-11-16 13:40
    Virginia Cider Week
    started last Friday and runs through November 20th and we attended the kickoff event Cider Smackdown: Attack of the Crab at Albemarle CiderWorks. This event was a blind tasting of eight Virginia ciders composed of crab apples and the entries consisted of either Virginia Hewes, Wickson, or Rub Ted Crabapple.

    Hewe’s Crab was the most common fruit variety grown in eighteenth-century Virginia. It is thought to be a cross between the native American crabapple, Malus angustifolia, and the domesticated European apple of horticulture. It produces a delicious cinnamon-flavored cider that is both sugary and pungent. Jefferson planted his entire north orchard exclusively with this variety and once wrote that crushing the juicy Hewe's Crab for cider was like "squeezing a wet sponge." Its small, round fruit, which ripens in September in Central Virginia, is dull red and streaked with green. (monticello.org)

    Wickson Crab was developed by Albert Etter, an apple enthusiast best known for his work on pink-fleshed and red-fleshed apples. Wickson was the result of crossing two other crab apple varieties. Confusingly Etter refers to them as Spitzenberg crab and Newtown crab in his patent papers, but it is not thought they are related to the mainstream apples of the same names but were crabs developed by Etter himself...Like most crab apples Wickson is very small and is also a hardy and problem-free tree. However, that is where the resemblance to other crab apples ends. Wickson is unusually sweet, but at the same time has a strong acid component. The result is an apple that has a very strong flavor, making it an excellent component for cider blends. (orangepippin.com)

    Ruby Red is a chance seedling that actually originates from the property. The tree was found behind an old cabin at the base of Priest Mountain by John Saunders and after noting the apples' intense flavor and colored flesh, they chose to propagate the apple for commercial purposes. (Troddenvale at Oakley Farm

    The Cider Smackdown was a blind tasting where attendees voted on their two favorites or a single favorite getting both votes. Each of the ciders was completely unique even those composed of the same apple varieties, as cellar techniques varied among the cideries. The Albemarle CiderWorks Wickson Crab received the most votes followed by a three-way tie of the Sage Bird Cider Virginia Hewes CrabHalcyon Days Cider Occam's Razor, and Big Fish Cider Virginia Hewes Crab.  I had recognized the Sage Bird Hewes Crab from opening a bottle a few weeks previously when studying for the CCP. Love the fleshy tart and bittersweet notes. My other vote went to the Potter's Craft Cider Wickson Crab (which finished in a three-way tie with the Lost Boy Cider Cellar Series: Hewes and Courthouse Creek Cider Crabtree Falls.  The Potter's Wickson Crab was aged in French oak wine barrels and was able to retain tartness and acidity while providing red currants on the nose and a full body palate.  The Troddenvale Grower Series, Silver Creek Orchards - 2021 rounded out the entries and this was my first taste of a Ruby Red Crabapple cider. There was an interesting farmhouse hoppy flavor combined with creamy lees and a bittersharp finish.

    We came home with a bottle each of the Albemarle CiderWorks Wickson Crab and Halcyon Days Occam's Razor but hope to revisit all of these ciders during the BevFluence® New Perspectives on Cider, Perry, and Brandy campaign. All ciders are welcome for the campaign. Cheers. 


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