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July 2018 Editions

Posted by on in July 2018 Editions

July18 Vodka

It’s hard to call a spirit ‘neutral’ when there’s so much diversity within its category 

By Jeff Cioletti


Vodka hasn’t attracted the sort of feverish fandom that, say, whiskey and agave spirits have, but that, in a sense, is by design. If vodka is truly doing its job and being everything it’s supposed to be, it’s neutral—without color, aroma or flavor (mostly). What’s to get excited about?

Well, it still outsells every other spirit—that’s pretty exciting.

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The Urban Winery in Silver Spring, Md., not only bills itself as the closest winery to the nation's capital, its proprietors also tout their business as the first winery in the overall D.C.-Maryland-Northern Virginia region to be located in an urban environment.  
The Urban Winery proprietors are husband-and-wife team Damon and Georgia Callis, and their passion for the grape has proven infectious.

"Georgia is the winemaker, and I'm basically her business partner," said Damon Callis, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "We'd been making wine together as amateurs for 18 years.  But we started to see a lot of the opportunity that arose in Silver Spring and in Maryland, in general."

He continued, "The concept of an urban winery is not new.  It's actually been around for a long time.  Even before Prohibition, much of America's wine industry was created in an urban environment and was distributed.  It was only after Prohibition where players like the Mondavis started to create this farm-style wine approach in the U.S.  In reading up and studying the history, there really wasn't an urban winery in the Mid-Atlantic.  The closest one was New York.  We fell in love with the [idea].  Making wine is fun.  But sharing it with others and then them coming back and sharing it with people they know is what keeps us going every day."

Callis made it clear that he and his wife are not farmers.  They get grapes from such far-flung locales as California, New York, and Pennsylvania.  They've also developed relationships with various farmers throughout Maryland, from the Eastern Shore to Carroll County. "Contributing to our local economy and our local agriculture is very important to us," he said.  "But what's really important is knowing the palettes of our customers and giving them a very different experience when they come to our tasting room. The Urban Winery experience is Taste … Learn … Create.  Our wines range from Merlots from Maryland to Zinfandels from California.  We make dry, white wines.  But we also make some semi-sweet white wines that are fabulous, and we're also making white wines with hops.  VidalPA is one of our newest products that we're releasing in cans.  We also have a Bourbon Barrel Merlot."

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When mentioning the word moonshine to many, images of a low-quality, home-brewed, bootlegged concoction immediately come to mind.  Much of it has to do with how moonshine has been portrayed for decades in mostly Southern-themed pop culture.  
Granny from the 1960s TV series, "The Beverly Hillbillies," ran a moonshine still by the Clampett family swimming pool.
In the video game, "Redneck Rampage," moonshine is used as a power-up that increases fighting ability (like Popeye's spinach).

And then there are the references in countless songs over the years.  And not just country favorites like George Jones ("White Lightning") and Florida Georgia Line ("Get Your Shine On").  But crossover artists like Aerosmith (who were "gettin' crazy on the moonshine" in their 1989 rock hit "Rag Doll") and funk band Parliament (their classic "Moonshine Heather").

Enter Richmond, Va.-based Belle Isle Spirits, whose stated mission has been to revive the art of moonshine. So far, they've been very successful at doing so.  The Beverage Journal recently asked Belle Isle co-founder and CEO Vince Riggi how he and his colleagues have managed to convince so many people to give their products a try.  "For the consumer," he said, "people inherently want to experience something new and exciting.  Belle Isle helps facilitate that journey by providing a unique product that's not quite like anything they’ve ever experienced before.  There is something that sticks about our product.  On the bartender side, we're another tool for their toolbox that provides them with a canvas to create delicious cocktails, and again, provide that unique experience for their clientele."

At tastings, Riggi has recorded a very common response among first-time drinkers: "Utter surprise!" he exclaimed.  "'This tastes better than my favorite vodka' is probably the most frequent comment we receive.  That's soon followed by 'Where the heck can I buy this?!'"

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Posted by on in July 2018 Editions

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Winegrowers are taking deliberate steps to lighten up Malbec and more

By W. Blake Gray


 If you haven’t tried Argentine wine in a while, you might be surprised. Malbec, the country’s definitive wine that has earned its status here by punching above its price point, is changing. Musclebound Malbec is no longer the norm; there’s a trend toward picking earlier and using less new oak. In short, Argentina is lightening up.

This is not just a trend for boutique producers, or at one price level. Some of Argentina’s most important exporters—including Catena, Susana Balbo, Trivento, Kaiken and Trapiche—are intentionally making most of their wines lighter. “Ten years ago, one of the most important elements was concentration. Density,” says Trivento Chief Winemaker German di Cesare. “Now it’s not so important.”

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Fruit Brandies—A Small But Booming Niche—Present Opportunities

By Jack Robertiello

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