Wine Review: Ravines, Methode Classique Brut, Finger Lakes Sparkling Wine, New York 2006

One should drink bubbly regardless of occasion.  But it is my birthday.  So I root around in the cellar for a fizzy friend.  Bottles of Dom Perginon and Krug tempt me.  Yet thirty five does not feel that special (aka expensive).  I turn to something interesting instead:

Ravines, Brut, Methode Classique, Finger Lakes Sparkling Wine, New York 2006


I cannot press enough what potential New York’s cold climate Finger Lakes posses.  We lived there for four years.  Like Champagne, the weather is miserable, soil poor, seasons short: a perfect recipe for austere, ageable bubbly.  Five years ago, I even posted about another 2006 sparkling wine by Dr. Konstantine Frank (read here).

Ravines winery has always been special to me.  Morten & Lisa Hallgren have crafted clean, dry, serious wines since 2000.  Their Rieslings compete well with Germany.  Once in a while a vintage shines enough to merit a sparkling wine.

in 2006, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir picked, fermented and went through secondary bottle fermentation giving it a fine fizz.  Ravines only made 375 cases.

A decade after harvest, how does it hold up? We throw on the 1932 Mummy and crack it:

APPEARANCE: Clear, medium minus intense but bright gold color, mixed fizz size, fine rapid bubbled core.

AROMAS: Clean, medium intense, diaphanous golden pear, camomile, light honey, vanilla powder.

PALATE: Dry, like Boris Karloff’s face, medium plus acidity, fine fizz, light alcoholic warmth, ripe fruity core medium bodied.

FLAVORS: Medium intense and persistent, palate-clinging flavors lead with poached pear, honey, into shortbread, followed by light lemon juice, ending in wet slate that dries at the back of the palate by steely fine bubbles. Long length.

Ravines’ 2006 Sparkling Brut is very good (4 of 5).  It remains crisp and refreshing with enough filigreed complexity to get lost in.  Salads, poached white fish, light deserts, and laid back birthday celebrations with classic horror films.  Do drink it now.  One could age it for another five years but that citric freshness will slip away, like the sands of Egypt. For $35 one cannot complain:



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Making Mead From Buckwheat Honey

At some point I thought making alcohol out of honey sounded like a great idea. I enjoy mead but tire of so many sweet and simple styles. Just because honey is its source does not necessitate it become a dessert drink.  Why can’t mead have the gravitas of wine?  Why can’t it taste dry, complex, and be a friend to food?

Thankfully, there are as many kinds of honey as flowering plants.  If a bee can find it, we can ferment it.  After trying countless honeys, I settle on the most savory one: buckwheat. Yes, earthy, ashy, mineral buckwheat: ingredient of black pancakes from Brittany, angry muffins, and serious soba noodles.

Every recipe and online forum says to stay away or blend other honeys. They use descriptors such as “rancid bacon”, “roadkill”, or “burnt old socks”.  Perfect!

I grab 48 ounces of local Heavenly Honey and add it to a boiling pot of water.


After much stirring and boiling (to avoid infection) the house smells like hot toffee and pepper.


I then pop the pot in the freezer. Once cool enough, I funnel it into the most adorable glass carboy, add a Champagne yeast to ensure it dries out, and tuck it with airlock into the dark cool closet.


Weeks pass. The airlock continues to rattle away. Once it slows to a near halt, I add sulfur to freeze it and transfer it off the lees into two growlers and pop them in the fridge.

It looks like tap coffee, but smells intensely of tar, molasses, pencil lead, and whole wheat bread. Annoyingly, it smells alcoholic and a bit wild.  At its core it tastes of rich clay and potting soil, bacon, and molasses, but something feral, meaty, twangy, and an edge of alcohol come through.  If only our cooler worked, then fermentation could have slowed evading some off flavors.  At least it feels dry.

Frustrated, I research more. Many point out that mead needs months if not years to mellow out, especially buckwheat meads.  Fine.  I will stow it away and report back later.



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Golden Oak wins Second Place Judges Choice at Portland’s Willamette Week Pro Am

So, after pouring their beer for seven hours against 31 other ingenious beers, Tracy’s Golden Oak got second place for Judges’ Choice.


Congrats to my brilliant wife, to Danny of Rogue Brewery, and Jesse of Lange Estate Winery for turning out such a fantastic beer.



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Oktoberfest Wine Review? Acolon Halbtrochen Wachtenburg Winzer, Germany

Yes, here I am at Mt Angel’s Oktoberfest, surrounded by fabulous, rare German beers, looking for wine.

For over 50 years, Mt Angel has hosted 350,000 tipsy, wanna-be bavarians intent on eating, drinking, and watching weiner dogs race.


We fuel up on schnitzel, spätzle, and pretzel shipped from Munich, along with a lovely dunkel lager.


Polka plays and luck smiles upon me as I enter the Weingarten.

weingarten-oktoberfest The choices, honestly, are innexpensive and hardly earth-shattering.  However, my eyes fall on a grape called Acolon.

Like Sisyphus, Germany continues to chase the ever-ellusive, smooth, full bodied red in their cool climate by endlessly crossing hardy grape with hardy grape.  This struggle will continue unless they give up or their climate drastically changes.  Thus, Germans created the Acolon grape by crossing Blauer Limburger and Dornfelder in 1971. Only 1.3 kilometers grow it.

Wachtenburg Winzer is a cooperative winery of 58 families in Western Germany in the Pfalz.  Their labels look horridly dull.  But nothing brilliant ever came by committee.


Through my wee plastic cup, the APPEARANCE looks a clear, medium plus intense purple cored, ruby-framed red. AROMAS moderately smell of beet juice, red grapefruit, pepper, and cheese. The PALATE feels off dry, with pinging high acidity, medium tannins, medium body, and a rounded, fine sand texture. FLAVORS taste spicy, with tart bramble berry jam, blue cheese, and black pepper that lasts a medium minus length.

Watchenburg Winzer’s Acolon is a good (3 of 5), honest, functional red.  It is red, chunky, but cannot hide its cool climate enamel-etching acidity. The malolactic fermentation kills some of the fruit’s character in an attempt to compensate.  Yet, sometimes, such cheap wines allow one to learn the basics about a grape variety.

Well, back to beer then…


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Kegging Golden Oak: Willamette Week Pro AM Beer Lange Winery Rogue Brewery

My wife’s beer, “Golden Oak” nears completion.  Inspired by Lange Estate Winery’s iconic, barrel-fermented Pinot Gris, Jesse Lange lent her a barrel to ferment her Belgian Golden Strong (read about the journey here).  After two months it has absorbed all that magic Pinot Gris from the barrel.  It looks clear and golden, smells sunny, fruity, yet tastes lightly grassy and mildly grainy, like a clean Belgian beer.  The problem: it is flat.

Well, Willamette Week’s Fourth Annual Beer Pro/Am competition is this Saturday, October 15th in Portland, Oregon (tickets: here).  So a few weeks ago, time called to keg and carbonate it. To avoid oxidation and awkward barrel-tipping, Tracy gets a pump:


With barrel hooked up to keg, she fills it with ease.


Belgian Golden Strong ales show best with a high level of carbonation.  Her Golden Oak would seem too wine-like without fizz.  So getting the CO2 level right will make or break this beer.  Worried, she kept sampling it over the last few weeks.

Will it be good enough for the Pro/Am?

Then, by chance, John Maier, founding head brewer of Rogue Brewery came to town.  Tracy has his wife try it, who then drags John over.  Quietly, he smells it, tastes it, then drinks it.


He looks at her, serious, and asks when is Rogue bottling it.  She explains it was a one off small batch just for the Pro/Am.  John looks confused at why this isn’t one of Rogue’s production beers, finishes it, and smiles. It is very well balanced he says.

Whether Tracy wins at Willamette Week’s Pro/Am or not, getting the blessing from the father of Oregon craft beer is enough.

So go, taste, and vote for Tracy’s “Golden Oak” at Willamette Week’s Fourth Annual Beer Pro/Am competition is this Saturday, October 15th in Portland, Oregon (tickets: here).


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