A summary by Dave Marks — our beer buyer
An ongoing theme throughout the current ten-year “craft beer” wave in the U.S. is that Americans tend to want big, bold, extreme “flavors” when it comes to beer. That’s obviously not the case for every beer-drinker, but there’s a real preponderance of breweries that are finding success in the U.S. with extreme beers.
Yet in Germany, beer is how it's always been. There, the beer is "nothing special" in the eyes of the locals, but we marveled at the flawless craft that has been carried on for so many years. For Germans, beer is engrained in their lives, their history, the nature, the agriculture. Joel and Dan Shelton have been exploring that world for a short 25 years, so they decided to launch the Shelton Brothers Insider Tours. One such tour took us to the heart of Franconia, in the small city of Bamberg, which is bolstered by its 250+ breweries and its world famous malthouse, Weyermann Malt.
We spent a lot of our time in Bamberg at Spezial's smoked beer house and Mahrs Bräu, and then every day we’d get bused out to the neighboring villages, each housing its own tiny breweries. Every beer garden had a Stammtisch, where only the regulars were allowed to sit. Playgrounds were also available at almost every brewery we visited, again confirming the importance of family in beer — and importance of beer in family.
Beer is not a collection or a checklist for Franconians; it’s the background of their lives. It’s the representation of the villages that can be traced back 200, 300, 400 years prior. It's part of dinner, social gatherings, festivals ... all as the foundation, not as the main focus. (Pictured, lower left: Franconian village of Ziegelanger)
We were quick to load our suitcases with "landbier" from Brauerei Bayer Theinheim. Tasting the Mahr's Hell at Mahrs Bräu was quite the experience. But nothing quite matched the feeling of drinking a kellerbier from the "Keller." Most of the kellers (which date back to the 1500s) were hand-carved by farmers into the stone hills of their farmland. The cellar (keller) would later house unfinished lager that would ferment at cellar-temperature for the summer months. (Pictured, upper left: Our group in one of the kellers)
Klosterbrauereri Weissenohe carried quite a bit of weight, making it one of our favorite spots on the tour. The brewery was the last of five on a trek we made over the hills of Southwest Franconia. Weissenohe Abbey and the brewery sit beside a church that dates back to the 1100s. The current owner told us the history of the 500-year-old brewery, explaining that his family had been in possession of the brewery since the early 1800s. His son Vincent, generation eight, had been working for Weissenohe since the age of 16. Vincent, now 23, is the head brewer, and shared our excitement for food and drink. At the end of the tour, he poured us some of his “California beer” with American-style hops. He asked about the Kitchen Garden Sriracha hat and shirt that we happened to be wearing. His interest in hot sauce and spice led him to start a pepper garden at home and sport a tube of Hungarian paprika on his keychain. We promised him we’d send him a care package with Mazí and Kitchen Garden hot sauce — we’ll probably include some Honest Weight, BLDG 8, and Berkshire Brewing in that package as well!
The largest quantity of beer we get from Franconia via Shelton Brothers comes from the city of Kulmbach. It was there that we experienced Kulmbacher Bierwoche, the third-largest beer festival in Germany. The lederhosen and dirndls were in full effect. The beer garden was filled with the traditional tables, just as you would find at our very own Brass Cat. There were hundreds of tables, and they were all filled with Germans that were excited to clank their steins and sing to the American pop tunes that were being played by the traditional German rock band. I danced to a Bon Jovi song that I would quickly change if it had come up on any radio station at home. I asked an enthusiastic young man that I was dancing with if he knew “Livin’ On A Prayer.” He screamed over the crowd “Yes! I know it. Let’s go up there and wish for it!” as he pointed at the stage. (Pictured, lower right: Kulmbacher brewery and our group at Kulmbach Bierwoche. Upper right: Our group getting a tour of Löwenbräu-Buttenheim)
Welcome to The Last Sip, a monthly in-depth look at a featured Provision’s wine, written by Maria Williams, writer, editor, and food and memoir blogger at www.whyarethebirdshere.wordpress.com.
This month’s wine:
Name - Scintilha, Les Vignes Libertines
Year – 2015
Vineyard - Clos Centeilles
Region – Minervois, Languedoc, France
Price - $14.99
Scintilha, The Libertine Vines of Clos Centeilles
Wine-lovers, I am having a moment. This marks the first review I am writing for Provisions, my favorite wine shop—nay, my favorite shop—here in the Valley. It’s been a mini dream, and what better than to top off my reverie with a bottle of Scintilha, Les Vignes Libertines, a bright, complex, and highly affordable red made by wine maven Patricia Boyer-Domergue from Clos Centeilles in southern France?
Under the Sun with Patricia Boyer-Domergue of Languedoc
I am always interested in female winemakers, especially those working in harmony with nature. Patricia Boyer-Domergue fits snugly into this category. A natural wine maker, all her wines, if manipulated anywhere along the route from soil to bottle are done so on the vine, not in the vat. No chemicals ever. No additional ingredients.
Imagine a Mediterranean sun bathing 100-year old vines in the unassuming town of Minervois in Languedoc just north of Spain and west of the sea. It’s hot. Stony scrub brush and rock glint under the bright sky where the white-haired Boyer-Domergue is pruning vines in specific angles according to specific elevations, a geometry that coaxes out the flavors she particular to her wines. There, with her husband and daughter, she meticulously works her 15 hectares, littered with Roman ruins and olive trees, to produce excellent wines with her own twist.
Arriving in Minervois in the late ‘80s after studying enology in Bordeuax, Boyer-Domergue purchased the ancient plot of Clos Centeilles and reintroduced a handful of indigenous grape varietals back into the locale. Those rare grapes--Picpoul Noir, Oeillade, Riveirenc and Terret Noir—come from rescued century-old vines she tirelessly nurtured for years and have become the mainstay of her vintages, for which she has gained a good reputation. Many of them are made to stand the test of time, so opening a 1990 Clos Centeilles is a serious treat.
And because Minervois and the Languedoc area has long been touted as a place for cheap, sweet wine, the complexity of Clos Centeilles’ is making a mark for the region. In-the-know critics are taking notice, surprised that anything with the depth and energy of Boyer-Domergue’s wines are coming from there.
Scintilha 2015 - Drink It Here, Drink It There, Drink It Anywhere
Scintilha, Les Vignes Libertines, which translates to Spark, The Libertine Vines, qualifies as a unique offering from the Clos Centeilles estate. Here, the grape is pure Censault, usually considered a Rosé grape known for its strong aroma and soft tannins. Popular in the region, only a few producers are using it on its own for reds these days. Clos Centeilles uses it solo in several of their best bottles, but this Scintilha is somewhat of an anomaly—a small batch wine not even available on the estate’s website with a name that suggests these particular vines have a mind of their own. Andy, one of Provision’s resident wine experts, posits perhaps Scintilha is an act of rebellious artistry by Boyer-Domergue’s daughter, now following in her mother’s footsteps.
Maybe that’s why I approached it the way I did--admittedly, taking my first sips standing in the middle of the kitchen, stuffing my face with salty almond-flower crackers and smoked goat gouda because I had forgotten to eat lunch and was starving, the bottle staring at me from the counter. Not sure that’s exactly libertine of me since I am never afraid to drink quality wine in the least pretentious of scenarios, but it was liberating. Wine, in my opinion, should fit handily into your everyday whether it’s at the dinner table or not.
Even in that impromptu pairing, Scintilha was quite good and expressed itself as a balance of opposites. It’s juicy but dry, soft but with hints of pepper and spice, and earthy but bright. The fruit flavors layer dark berries over red ones. There’s minerality too--flint and copper perhaps—as well as a kind of funky woodiness, most noticeable on the nose. This is the complexity I mentioned above. Lots of fun stuff going on here. You can taste something a little different with each sip. With my crackers and cheese, it did not overpower, and the fruit-forward aspect added nice flavors.
Scintilha is also an incredibly drinkable wine, with medium acidity and low tannins, as is typical of Censault. And being a lightweight, earthy red, it’s beyond versatile. I had a couple glasses that first evening with the snacks but finished the bottle off the next night with my friend David over another of my impromptu meals—red pepper chicken sausage with fresh tomatoes and olive oil – this time on the couch watching David’s cat get stuck in the sleeve of the wine bag and reading poems to each other. Libertines!
Scintilha and the spice from the sausage were an excellent pair. The two danced around in my mouth elevating the heat factor. There was a lot of “mmm, this is good” going on between bites. The earthiness deepened the flavor of the chicken while the light weight matched the tomato salad.
But, if you are looking for a wine for a more deliberate sit-down dinner with friends, don’t let my casual approach lead you away. No. Scintilha could also easily hold up to more contemplated, heavier meals. A beef burger with stinky cheese, veggie lasagna, Portobello risotto, or a roast lamb would be amazing with its earth and fruit. And it’s a perfect wine to bring to someone’s house for dinner when you don’t know what’s on the menu.
Finally, if you are a late-night sweet fiend like me, this is a good accompaniment for dark chocolate under a blanket listening to your favorite shuffle list before bed.
The Last Sip
However you drink Scintilha, try to remember Patricia Boyer-Domergue, pruning vines in the sun, picking the grapes by hand, giving you a piece of herself and her ancient land.
It’s so easy to forget when we’re bustling about, eating dinner standing in the middle of our kitchens in cold New England, February 2018, so far from hot Minervois 2015.
The meek may inherit the earth, but it is the patient who will see the glory of the wines of Piedmont.
Set into the Langhe foothills of northwestern Italy, the treasures of this region, Barolo and Barbaresco, are guarded by the glittering watchtowers of the alps and by another gatekeeper: time. Nebbiolo is a reticent grape with an unusually long growing season, and its suppleness and generosity emerge only gradually. Uncorked too soon, the wines it makes will show a tannic edge that can feel harsh. Even if you wait, you may find them austere. But they do soften eventually, and at their best achieve a bewitching balance of elegance and power.
Paired with the right foods—which can range from lamb with chimichurri (nebbiolo is a high-acid grape) to braised beef (a classic pairing) to a soft, pungent cheese such as Taleggio that will smooth the sharp, tarry, tannic angles and complement the grape’s delicate aromas of violets and earth and rose petals—they can be transcendent.
A recent find, the Negro Lorenzo “San Francesco” Roero Riserva 2009, is one of these.
True to its varietal roots, it has some structural tight-fistedness. But it also has a flash of ripe fruit; along with the ink and ash comes a blast of fresh black cherry. In the universe of northern Italian nebbiolos—a universe that is often spartan in its flavor profile—this is a relatively ripe wine.
Still, it is far from “Parkerized” (a term sometimes used to denote the perception of a
widespread softening in European wines in response to the extraordinary market influence of wine critic Robert Parker and his American palate). Like many nebbiolos, this is a demanding wine—a wine with teeth.
Piedmont literally means “foot of the mountain,” and Piedmont is among Italy’s coldest
regions, with a climate comparable to that of much of central Europe. The nebbiolo grape,
widely thought to take its name from the Italian word nebbia, meaning mist or haze, is slow to ripen, benefiting from the autumn fog that blankets the Langhe valley and reaches into the hills, where it cools the rolling vineyards and imparts an unyielding acidity to the grapes that grow there.
There may also be some magic in that mist, as nebbiolo has yet to be cultivated with
consistent success anywhere else in the world. The grape has proved more challenging to
domesticate away from its home even than Burgundy’s fickle pinot noir, to which it is often
compared and to which it is similar in weight and color.
But this is part of its charm. Born of restless vines that demand frequent pruning to focus their creative energies on the grapes they bear, nebbiolo can be a challenging varietal for
wine makers and wine drinkers alike. It speaks stubbornly, as fewer and fewer things do, of a particular place in the world. And it has not yet been coaxed into relinquishing or tempering its nature to flatter mainstream tastes. Small wonder, then, that it often carries an edge. Small price to pay for the experience of its originality.
Perhaps the largest craft brewery to be putting all their eggs in the “lager” basket
by Dave Marks
According to the Brewers Association, craft beer made up nearly 13% of the beer industry in 2016. That is an estimated 23 billion dollars in retail worth, which is especially impressive when you consider that craft beer was less than 5% of the market back in 2010.
Founders Brewing has grown exponentially, producing 450,000+ barrels in 2017 compared to just 24,501 in 2010. A small portion of that is made up of their small-batch beers, but a whopping 70% is one beer: All Day IPA, a beer that didn’t even exist in 2011.
In 2012, they invested in a trend. They predicted that the need and desire for an “easy-drinking” session IPA would spike. So they put their eggs in that basket and watched it take off. All Day is now right beside Sierra Nevada Pale and Brooklyn Lager in almost every beer store and grocery store in the nation, which is no small feat.
Fast forward to 2018: We are all getting tired of IPAs, or at least that is what everyone is predicting. The beer industry has been catering to the consumers’ desire to drink all things hoppy while, at the same time, patiently waiting for the trend to change.
Is 2018 the year? Is this the year that everyone jumps ship and says “I think I just want a nice, refreshing, easy-drinkin’ pilsner” to their bartender? That is what Founders is banking on. Solid Gold will tap into an old genre with a new approach. The snappy, crisp, light malt lager will appeal to craft drinkers who seek quality. At the same time, this “premium lager” has potential to reach the mass-market drinker.
What this means for Provisions: Founders Solid Gold will sit on our shelves next to Budweiser and PBR. 15-pks will run $13.49 and 6-pks for $5.99 (same price as Budweiser). It will likely be one of the best sellers of the warmer months, and we encourage you to give it a try! Come by the shop, we’ll crack a can.
A dazzling New York riesling for any season
By Abe Loomis
New York wines can be hit or miss, but their stars are on the rise. Among the long hills and pristine Mennonite farms of the Finger Lakes region upstate, winemaking gems sparkle at the edges of deep, cold lakes with names like Keuka, Cayuga, and Canandaigua. (In the water itself, you’re more likely to find the small, gray, runic fossils that litter the lakebeds in surprising abundance, like fragments of alien pithoi.) These downward waters — Lake Seneca plunges 618 feet — rarely freeze in the winter, moderating the bitter cold, and their emanations cool the vines in the summer. This is the kind of climate a rising riesling rootstalk could get used to.
Born on Seneca’s shores, the 2016 Boundary Breaks No. 239 Dry Riesling is a wine of unusual length, extraordinary concentration, and intriguing complexity. Like most of its German cousins (the unchallenged standard-bearers of the varietal), it has never touched oak. The acidity is pretty and succulent one moment, tart and forceful the next: a glittering slap of spray from the water’s edge, supporting flavors of key lime, green apple, and even the tang of apricot. A glimmer of spice decorates the nose.
It is the concentration of fruit, though, that is most exceptional. “Fruit,” of course, in wine-speak, doesn’t mean sweetness. The residual sugar in the No. 239 is just .8%, according to Boundary Breaks’ technical sheet. But the experience of this wine on the palate is intense. The flavors are generous and lively, suggestive and shape-shifting. As when you sip the juice of freshly pressed apples, there is a sense of the presence of the living essence of the fruit.
Bruce Murray, owner of Boundary Breaks, connects the wine’s quality to the vineyard’s proximity to the lake and, critically, to the careful management of water.
“I hate to say it’s the drain tile, and not my genius,” he says with a chuckle. “But it’s the drain tile.”
Too much moisture in the earth can make life too easy on a vine. Its roots remain shallow because they don’t have to dig deep to drink. The fruit it bears will be bloated, watery, and sullen — noble grapes turned to naughty princes. To prevent this sort of dissipation, farmers bury drain tile, perforated pipes that let water in and carry it away, forcing the plants to work harder and reach further. (Such systems have been so important to agriculture in this part of the world that there is a whole drain-tile museum in Geneva, N.Y.) At Boundary Breaks, the drain tile is four feet down.
Less water in the environment also means the grapes get to spend more time in the sun.
“Drainage tile keeps the vineyard dry,” Murray says, “[especially] in the fall, when mold begins to be a problem for grapes. By having a very dry vineyard, we can keep our grapes out longer, they get riper, the juice is richer, and the wine tastes better.”
“No. 239” calls to mind the bin numbers used to label some Australian wines, but its meaning is more technical. Consistent with a quickening American appetite for the science behind our foods — and especially our wines — it refers to “Geisenheim 239,” a relatively recent riesling clone that was among several that Murray’s team planted to gauge their suitability to the place.
“You want to match the clone with the site,” Murray says. “The climate, the terroir, and all of it. There wasn’t a lot of experience in this region with clones, so we planted five different ones to see how they did. After eight years or so we have a feel for how the clones differ, both in the way the plants behave and in the juice, the flavor profile.”
The result is a revelation.
Provisions is honored to host a very special tasting event: Nick Mucci of Mucci Imports will be bringing six Italian winemakers to share their wines and wisdom with our shop. Mucci has an awesome group of small and characterful wineries they work with, and these six will be no exception.
For the next five weeks, we'll be telling you a little more about each one of these producers in our newsletter. Enjoy getting to know them a little, and be there on March 31 for the tasting of a lifetime!
1. Negro Lorenzo
Daniele Ferrero, the winemaker's right-hand man, will be joining us to represent this tiny Italian winery from the Roero, just north of the famous wine regions of Alba, Barolo, and Barbaresco. Daniele and Lorenzo are joined only by Lorenzo's sister and mother ("La Nanda") in the small family business.
The winery has been in the Negro family for generations, and until very recently the winemakers literally hitched the wine to a wagon to bring to local markets — it wasn't until 2006 that Lorenzo even started bottling! Negro Lorenzo's Nebbiolo is said to rival the famous iterations across the river in Barolo and Barbaresco. One stand-out factor is the soil composition -- 70% sand — which yields a softer, more approachable expression of Barbera, Dolcetto, and Nebbiolo.
2, Rocco di Carpeneto
Our second highlight for the Italy Invades Provisions! event features husband-and-wife Paolo Baretta and Lidia Carbonetti, the owners of Rocco di Carpento winery in Ovada in Southern Piedmont. Ovada is known for its alluvial and silty soils as well as its clear maritime influence. Their first vintage was 2012 (and Lidia received her masters in winemaking just a few years later!) and ever since the winery has been certified organic. All the wines ferment on native yeasts and are unfiltered and un-manipulated -- the purest expression of the region. They've even planted a local varietal called Albarossa, which is a cross between the Italian Barbera and a very old French variety called Chatus.
3. La Tollara
Positioned in the hills of Piacenza in Prosciutto and Parmigiano country, La Tollara sits on six hectares and is owned and run by the three Bolzoni sisters. Federica primarily handles the wine-making and Mariolina, who will be joining us for this event, takes care of the commercial side of things.
The sisters had the idea to start the winery in the early 2000s, learning everything from scratch, including which vines to plant and where. Out of this greenness came one of their most innovative and risky ideas: creating an "Amarone-style" Bonarda. The Bolzonis have continued innovating ever since, always with a focus on the land and creating a happy and healthy ecosystem.
Owners (and husband and wife) Fabio Bottonelli and Donatella Agostini are the only two employees of Manaresi winery — Donatella is the boss and winemaker and Fabio does a lot of work in the vineyards and plays cellar assistant to his wife. The winery is located in Zola Predosa, right outside the city of Bologna — you can actually see the city from parts of the vineyard.
The property on which the vineyard sits was originally owned by Donatella's grandfather, a famous Bolognese artist. The vineyards were first planted in 1988 and by 2006 Donatella had taken full ownership. She and Fabio planted more vineyards in 2008 and by the next year had bottled their first "experimental vintage." Their focus is mainly on a local grape varietal called Pignoletto, which is Bologna's only native white varietal. It yields lightly sparkling wines that pair marvelously with the region's famous charcuterie.
5. La Sabbiona
About an hour east of Bologna is the town of Faenza, which sits about 40 minutes from the coast. It's the home of La Sabbiona winery, owned by Mauro Altini and his parents, who run the B&B and restaurant on the property. The winery sits under the famous tower of Oriolo, a landmark which grants views into Tuscany and the hills of Faenza.
When Mauro's parents purchased the property in the '60s, there was already an existing vineyard there, and they utilized it to make wines to sell in their restaurant. When Mauro took over he explored local varietals like Centesimino and Famoso, which were grown by only a handful of producers. In fact, Mauro discovered some of the last remaining vines of Famoso growing in the hills and was one of the first producers to replant this historic varietal in his vineyards. And today he bottles the only sparkling version of this aromatic and expressive white.
By Dave Marks
There's big news out of San Diego this week: Green Flash Brewing, cited by the Brewers Association as the 37th-largest brewery in the U.S., is pulling out of 32 states. The West Coast brewery just finished construction of a Virginia Beach location and was in a position that not many “mid-sized” breweries have accomplished ... they were in all 50 states.
Their West Coast-style IPAs are on many lists along with breweries like Oskar Blues, Stone Brewing, and Port Brewing, all of whom have faced similar growing pains in their attempts to be a nationwide brewery.
What this means for us:
In the immediate future, it means Green Flash and Alpine Brewing (owned by GF) will be at clearance prices in Massachusetts. At Provisions, we will have six packs of Alpine (normally upwards of $14.99) for $8.99! A Green Flash barrel-aged Belgian brew (Baroque Belgique) sits at $8.99 per bottle instead of $13.99.
In the future, we will have to get our fix for the West Coast IPAs in New York or Connecticut. The latter was initially on the cut-list, but it was announced Tuesday that Green Flash would stay in the Constitution state.
I can't help but think that this is going to be a trend in craft beer for years to come. Breweries that used to sell 4-5 cases a week at Provisions are now keeping their fingers crossed to move 4-5 cases in a month. We've also heard about breweries around the Northeast taking a step back to focus on their home market. Green Flash is just doing it on a large scale.
Underberg is a German digestif bitter made from a secret family recipe. Its cult following is well-earned, as the potent little elixir is thought to aid digestion, prevent/cure hangovers, and — according to Underberg — make one "feel bright."
Don't forget to stock up on coffee and tea before a night of imbibing.
We carry a wide range of locally roasted coffee (Share, Esselon, Haymarket) and tea from local businesses (Tea Guys, No. Six Depot) as well as coffee- and tea-making accessories and tools.
(You also might want to grab a bar of dark chocolate for an extra boost of caffeine.)
Rehydrate and recover with our selection of healing kombuchas, seltzers, and sodas.
Greenfield's own Katalyst makes a variety of unique kombuchas, including Jasmine, Concord Grape, and Green Lovin' (made with blue-green algae and cordyceps mushrooms).
Spindrift seltzers are made with sparkling water and real fruit, including raspberry lime, blackberry, and lemon.
And if none of that does the trick, there's always a little hair of the dog.
Check out our selection of cocktail mixes, including McClure's Bloody Mary Mixer and Cocktail Crate Sriracha Margarita Craft Mixer.
By Dave Marks
It's easy to fall into the same habits with beer … Stick to what you like. Quite frankly. I am not here to tell you what to drink. I’ve just made a list of areas to explore if you are up for some “new beers resolutions,” if you will.
#1 Drink Local: This is always my number 1 beer-drinking goal. If you haven't yet explored the breweries that are surrounding you in Western Mass, you are in for a treat. Fort Hill has everyone talking in the Boston area, and even BLDG 8 and Abandoned Building have gotten some statewide recognition. Not to mention small producers like Stoneman, Bear And Bramble, and Honest Weight, which are small-batch heroes.
#2 Try Sour Again: You may have seen the sour craze and said “no thank you." It absolutely is an acquired taste. However, it's not all acidic, mouth-puckering tart bombs -- there are many balanced, complex, and wonderful sours out there. California's Libertine has some unbelievable subtle, effervescent sours that are sure to please. And Crooked Stave out of Colorado has a wonderful portfolio of small bottles and, just recently, cans for first-timers to explore.
#3 Plan A Trip: It's an absolute pleasure to base a road trip around beer. With the hundreds of breweries in the United States (and Canada!), it's easy to pick a city for a long weekend of fun. (Pro tip: Be aware that many breweries are in industrial parks!) Also, if you do a trip, make sure you visit an established brewery such as Brooklyn Brewery, Allagash, or Victory for a guaranteed good time. Breweries who have been in the game longer simply have more space and usually offer more to do, such as tours.
#4 Reach Out: My personal favorite part of beer is the act of sharing. Beer brings people together. There are many little communities out there based around beer. Some groups are more serious (nerdy) than others. Regardless, the joy of a “bottle share” is a wonderful feeling. Seeing what your friends bring to the table is always fun. Plus, it really is difficult to finish a 750mL on your own (sometimes).