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Drinkmuse: Knob Hall Winery – The start of the Maryland quest

November 6, 2011

It has finally started: The great Maryland wine quest. This summer I got it in my head that it would be a great idea to go to all of the Maryland wineries (at least the ones that are open to the public), visit, take notes and pictures, and write them up. Throughout it, I hope to discover new wine, show that there are, contrary to popular opinion, good Maryland wineries, and maybe even that Maryland doesn’t just have sweet wine.

The first stop for the quest wound up being Knob Hall Winery. We had a Livingsocial coupon for it which was expiring soon, so on a whim during a day when we weren’t really busy, we decided to drive up there. Let me tell you, it was a drive. Basically straight NW from DC for a while, up 70 till just past Hagerstown, and then off of 70 quite close to the PA border. The winery itself is in farmland (we saw lots of horses and cattle), and is situated on what was an old farm, I believe.

As I understand it, the winery is pretty new – the last 3-4 years I believe (although that may not be completely accurate). If you check the website you will see that one of the managing partners is part of a family which has owned that land for over 200 years. Impressive story. The barn which is the tasting room was erected in 1860. It’s a great setting to taste some wine. I get the feeling they are still building – they talk about building a state of the art building for producing the wine on their site, and they have recently planted 30 acres of grapevines.

Onto the tasting: As you walk into the barn, you can tell it’s age – the floorboards are a bit uneven, they are large old style planks. The barn itself has pretty minimal additions to make it into a tasting room – tables, the tasting bar and some stools, plus some fridges and a port-a-potty. The tasting area is actually quite small – 6 stools I believe, which feels a bit odd with how giant the barn is. Lots of what feels like unused space (but which must be great for events). We got there are there were only two other people tasting – a pair of friends from Silver Spring.

We tasted 3 whites, 2 roses, and 4 reds. I thin we actually missed one red, which is sad, but we did taste their reserve bottling, so that was nice. I will note that my nose is oddly stuffed (and has been for weeks), so my notes are a bit weaker than I hope.

1. Vidal Blanc – First impression was dry and tart. I have to say I couldn’t get a lot other than some stone and minerality here. It was interesting, not overwhelming, but I’d like to taste again when I have my full palate.

2. Vidal Blank Sweet – Felt very much like the classic “Maryland Sweet Wine” (from now on MSW). Overwhelming notes of melon. Not for me, but I know people who will love this.

3. Tryst – Described as a spicy food wine, I think the hostess said this was made from Traminette (I can’t confirm that with the website). Didn’t taste like previous Traminettes I’ve had – got a bit of lemon, and was too sweet for me for what they were describing.

4. Dry Rose – Got lots of tart cherry. The suggested pairing was with Manchego cheese – I do love me some Manchego, and I can see this working decently. Not something I would be searching for ( I think you can get equally priced dry roses from France that perform better).

5. Sweet Rose – We literally got the same exact flavor profile for this – our hostess described this as being made because they saw the market/desire in Md for a sweet Rose. That made me laugh – just so stereotypical of the state, or wine geeks impression of the state, at least. This was perhaps a little bit sweeter, but really not that much.

6. Le Reve Rouge – Great purple color on this. Not a particularly full-bodied red, but lots of red fruit, and pretty tasty. Only bottle we bought – great easy table wine that should go over well with a wide group of folks.

7. Jealous Mistress – This is their most popular wine, as I understand. Merlot and Chambourcin. Dry, I didn’t write much down for this (I’ve had it before). Similar idea to the Le Reve in terms of where I would serve it. Good wine for the price (med-high 10’s).

8. Merlot – All I got from this was black currant. It was entirely drinkable, I just wouldn’t seek it out if I had a choice.

9. Prestige – Their Bourdeaux style wine, a reserve. We were told they normally don’t taste but they had a bottle open from an event. At 32, I thought the price was a bit much, but it was a nice wine, well-balanced with enough tannic structure that it could stand to be open but not be overwhelming.

Overall impression: This was a good winery to start with. Very nice setting, very nice to see one of the newer ones. We didn’t really like the whites or roses, but the reds were all solid, and for the price both the Le Reve and the Jealous Mistress are well worth it. I’d like to visit in a couple of years to see what they’ve done with the location and with their wine program.


Techmuse: Nest Thermostat

November 3, 2011

So, I will admit it. I’m an Apple geek. I like my pretty toys, and Apple is very good at making me want to buy things. So I was very intrigued when I saw reports that the “godfather” of the Ipod had designed a new piece of technology – and more intrigued when I found out it was a thermostat. First.. not a commodity, and second.. who the heck thinks about their thermostat? I admit.. if I owned a home I probably would, but I’m going to revel in my renting life for a moment.

This is basically trying to be a prettier, smarter thermostat than the programmable smart ones out there already. Input is by spinning an outside wheel and pressing the face of it (sound familiar?). The key features that are being advertised so far: It’s intelligent/learning. Once you set it a few times it’ll learn where you want the temperature during different periods of the day – colder when not home, warmer when you get home, different at night, etc. Once you do that a few times, it will do so automatically – unlike most thermostats which you have to change manually. Secondly, it has an auto-away feature – it has sensors that can tell when you are not around in the room, and if you leave and forget to change the thermostat, it’ll reduce heat to your “away” setting after two hours. Finally, after learning your normal temperatures, it’ll pop a leaf up on the display if you start moving it to a more energy efficient temperature – in effect giving you a little mini reward for saving energy.

These are all interesting. I find the leaf funny because it makes a game of the thermostat. Now the kicker is, the thing costs 250 dollars. Which is basically buying an iPhone. Pretty high tariff. I like the idea, I think if I owned a house I would be tempted, and I like the look (see this link). Just not confident it’ll take off. But then again, what does take off mean for this kind of product?

Drinkmuse: Shirlington Oktoberfest

October 13, 2011

Every year Capital City Brewery puts on an Oktoberfest celebration in Shirlington Virginia. I’ve been going for almost the entire time I’ve been here. It’s a bunch of fun, with lots of breweries well mixed between local and further out, basic and higher end. There is of course German music and food, plus food from many of the restaurants in Shirlington. Well worth it, across the board. It’s hard to taste and take notes well there – you get ten tickets worth a tasting each, and you WILL get drunk if you aren’t careful. What follows were thoughts I was jotting down as we went along. This isn’t all I had, but it was a bit. I thoroughly recommend it for next year if you are in the DC area.


Clown Shoes – Had a brown ale and a wheat. I liked the brown ale, but it was quite smoky – heavy on the roasted malts. Might not be everyone’s thing. Wasn’t that impressed with their wheat.

Sweetwater – had a I think double IPA which was great, and an Oktoberfest which was just ok. Need to track down if that was their double IPA – it was definitely something I want more of.

St. Louis – Had their framboise lambic. It’s what I expected – similar to Lindemann’s, incredibly sweet, with nothing really reminiscent of the sour lambic style. Great beer to get people who say they don’t like beer into beer, however.

Troegs – Had their porter, which I liked, but came away thinking it was a bit two sweet. Not sure if that was the tasting conditions, or if it was really the beer.

RJ Rockers Dunkel – Tasty. Nothing special, but fit the style as I understand it and was very drinkable.

DC Brau – Was disappointed here. Have loved them the few times I have had them, but both their beers at the fest felt off – all the people I was, plus me, were getting soapy hints to the beer. Wonder if their taps/lines were not washed right after their last cleaning.

Epic – had their Saison, which was really really good. This is another I will seek out more of. Actually tasted like what I understand a Saison to be, instead of being something watered down without the fun Belgian characteristics.

Drinkmuse: Final Notes from Westminster Wine Festival

October 10, 2011

As promised, here are some brief notes from the rest of the wineries that I tried at the Westminster Wine Festival (Carrol County Wine Festival?).

Basignani Winery – This was another I was generally impressed with. Their whites didn’t do much for me, but at least one of them would make a great bottle for easy drinking nights. Their reds were nice, however. I was impressed with the Piccolo, which they call their Cab’s baby brother. Very tasty, on my list to try and maybe get a bottle of. Their “Erik’s Big Zin” was nice, and surprisingly liked by some others in the group that I didn’t think would. Their Cab Sauv itself was also tasty. In terms of the sweet wines, their Marisa Dolce was nice in a sweet red style, and their Monkton Moon was a hit with the entire group. Had some of that this past weekend, and it was still nice – perhaps a bit too sweet for me, but still tasty. Well worth the $15.25.

Cassinelli Winery and Vineyards – I have notes on two of their wines… which are not backed up by their website. I don’t really know why that is, so I will refrain from posting notes until I get a chance to try the wines again.

Dove Valley Vineyards and Winery – Similar to Cassinelli, their website doesn’t match what they let us taste. However – the Sunset was very nice, and the Mr. Bentley was a liked by the entire group. Sweet styles all of them, but good considering. Nothing that was hitting my urge for red that much.

Far Eastern Shore Winery – I was very impressed with what I had across the board, but didn’t get many notes. I am looking forward to trying further.

Fiore Winery and Distillery – High Heel Slipper was the hit with the group – several bottles were bought. Sangiovese was nice for me – very smoky, nice layers.

Galloping Goose Vineyards – Big point with these guys was that they had a very pleasant Claret, which was one of the only ones I had that day that was tasty.

St. Michaels Winery – They had a Chocolate Zin which was liked by most of the group. Another to try later on with a less beat upon palate.

Very brief notes, but that’s all I had left written up. Definitely a fun day, lots of things to look into further.

Drinkmuse: Elysian The Men’s Room

October 6, 2011


Initial Thoughts: I’m not generally a big fan of red ales, but this looked fun, I had never heard of the brewery, and some of the moneygoes to military vet families.  Figured why not give it a try. On viewing, looks… about like a red ale. Has some head, pours pretty easy, and the nose is mainly hoppy. Color is reminiscent of other Red ales – golden hue with a inner core of brown. 5.6% alcohol.

First taste: Great hop flavor – wish I knew what hops are here. They are ones I recognize, but I don’t know the name. (I went and looked it up – Cascade and Chinook. Cascade I recognize – I need to work to figure out what characteristics the Chinook has.) Whatever they have done here, the hops are very pleasant. I get very light malt flavor if any – I’d guess it’s crystal and or munich or some other combination (looking up, confirmed those two, plus a few others).

Further thoughts: To be honest, I’m not used to this kind of beer being in a bottle this big.

Doing some research, I decided to look up the Beer Judge Certification Program  guidelines for Irish Red Ales:

Aroma: Low to moderate malt aroma, generally caramel-like but occasionally toasty or toffee-like in nature. May have a light buttery character (although this is not required). Hop aroma is low to none (usually not present). Quite clean.

Appearance: Amber to deep reddish copper color (most examples have a deep reddish hue). Clear. Low off-white to tan colored head.

Flavor: Moderate caramel malt flavor and sweetness, occasionally with a buttered toast or toffee-like quality. Finishes with a light taste of roasted grain, which lends a characteristic dryness to the finish. Generally no flavor hops, although some examples may have a light English hop flavor. Medium-low hop bitterness, although light use of roasted grains may increase the perception of bitterness to the medium range. Medium-dry to dry finish. Clean and smooth (lager versions can be very smooth). No esters.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body, although examples containing low levels of diacetyl may have a slightly slick mouthfeel. Moderate carbonation. Smooth. Moderately attenuated (more so than Scottish ales). May have a slight alcohol warmth in stronger versions.

Overall Impression: An easy-drinking pint. Malt-focused with an initial sweetness and a roasted dryness in the finish.

So consider that your education for today. I’d say the overall impression description as an easy-drinking pint is dead on. I’ve getting much more hops – I saw lots of mentions online of an American Red style – I am thinking that there might be a move towards hops in these american styles. I will say that as the beer has warmed a bit, the malt has come through a bit. It’s showing up quite nicely, and now matches what the bottle says “Amber in color with a light hop aroma and toasty malt finish”. I’d take out the “Toasty”, but otherwise, pretty good match.

Final thoughts: This is a very tasty, relatively easy to drink beer. If it was on tap, it would be on my list to regularly get. Seeing as this is a Seattle brewery, I’ll have to keep a lookout for it if I ever go out there.

Drinkmuse: Iniquity – Southern Tier

October 4, 2011

I haven’t had many Southern Tier beers, so I’ve wanted to try any I could get my hands on. I’m a big fan of black IPAs and black ales, so this one was perfect – Iniquity is listed as “Imperial black ale” or “Imperial iniquity black ale”. 9.0% alcohol.

Initial looks: Virtually no head, very smooth pour, very dark – not quite black, but close.

Nose: I don’t have much of a sense of a smell today, so all I’m getting are very light hops, of the citrus variety.

First taste: Def black IPA feel. Hops and malt are well balanced. Have to say that initially, the malt is underwhelming, and I am getting off tastes towards the back of my mouth. On first sip its great, but as it goes down, its almost sours, in a negative sense. I don’t feel the alcohol at all – very well masked for being so high. Hops are listed as Chinook, Cascade, Willamette and Centennial. I don’t have a lot of experience with Willamette, but I can taste the Cascade.

Switching Glass: Bottle says to serve in a tulip glass. I’m a firm believer that glassware does affect taste, so I switched over to see how things are going. Nose blows up in this glass. Definitely get the Cascade now, and I think I am getting the Centennial as well on the nose.  Sadly, I am not getting that much better of a backend taste. This is where I wish I had done a beer judge class so I could identify issues with beers. Also of note – I get a bit of head on this in this glass.

After being warmed up: About the same. It feels very much like “promise unfilled” – a very nice nose, a nice initial taste, and then something off that I can’t handle.

Drinkmuse: Pliny the Elder

September 28, 2011


On Monday, in honor of Monday Night Football and having a hop-loving friend over, I opened my bottle of Russian River’s Pliny the Elder – a hard to find on the East Coast IPA. This was brought back to me from a friend whose family lives near Russian River. I probably kept it too long, but it was wonderful none the less. What follows are my notes, as I wrote them. Apologies for the short/broken sentences.

On open – great color, almost no head, very smooth and clean.

Nose – Can smell the hops. Jeremy pointed out it smells like grapefruit. I am getting an odd hint of pine, but I can’t tell where that is coming from.

Taste  – lots of hops. very tasty. the word that seems to describe it is smooth – you have the hops, and very little malt, but it’s incredibly easy drinking. Really can’t complain at all. Could be very easy to drink lots of this.

As it warms – a bit of honey comes out, at least to me, but very light. I liked this – wasn’t too overwhelmed, but very very happy.

I enjoyed it, will be happy to get other bottles, but will not seek it out like some of my other favorite “rare” beers.