Wasmund’s Whisky: A Local Twist on an Old Standby

I have to admit up front that I am not a big spirits guy. My tastes in alcohol are heavily weighted toward wine and beer. That said, I have been trying to open my palate to some new experiences. A recent tasting at a wonderful little wine & spirit shop in D.C., Pearson’s, provided me with an opportunity to do just that. Not only did I get to sip some whisky, I got to meet a local distiller who does things just a bit differently than everyone else.

Rick Wasmund is the Master Distiller at The Copper Fox Distillery, a Blue Ridge distillery in Sperryville, Virginia. He is a friendly guy who knows his craft, and he is more than willing to share his thoughts and experiences with you as you taste his Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky. Rick tells the story of Wasmund’s better than I can (as does the Washington Post), so I won’t go into the history. What I will tell you is what makes his whisky worth a try, and possibly worth a Christmas gift to your favorite alcoholic.

Wasmund’s in the Still
Just Another Day at the Office

When one thinks of single malt whisky, one thinks of Scotland, where the finest whisky in the world is made. The Scots, and just about everyone else on the planet, make single malt whisky by using peat in the kiln. The smoke from the peat filters up through the malted barley and imparts its flavor. The barley is then fermented and the alcohol aged in oak barrels for several years.

Rick Wasmund decided that he could create a unique product by doing things differently. He still uses barley (Thoroughbred barley from a private Virginia grower), but instead of employing peat in the kiln, Copper Fox burns cherry, apple, and oak woods. So far as Rick knows, Copper Fox is the only distillery in the world that does this. After being distilled in a relatively small pot still, Wasmund’s is barrel-aged in a patent-pending process that employs cherry, apple, and oak wood chips and results in a naturally accelerated maturation of the whisky.

Draining After Aging
Success!

The final product? Well, it is smooth with full, rich flavors while not being too harsh on the palate. It is different from the whisky you would normally sample, as the woods employed impart different flavors than your standard peat and oak barrels. While I may not be a whisky expert, I know what I like, and I liked this. If my word is not good enough for you, all I can tell you is that 20-30 people attended the Wasmund’s tasting at Pearson’s . . . they all left with smiles on their faces and bottles in their hands.

Distillery Dog
One Happy Distillery Dog

$35.00 per bottle.

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Published in: on November 30, 2007 at 12:14 pm  Comments (17)  
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Dessert Wines for Thanksgiving: Some Locally Available Wines for the Holiday

I will be spending this Thanksgiving in Nashville, Tennessee with Mrs. Wine with Dinner and her lovely family. Now, when I say family, I mean a family — lots of people — probably around twenty for Thanksgiving dinner. We offered to bring the wine, but apparently the dinner wine was already covered. I can’t say I was too upset to hear this, seeing as satisfying twenty people’s palates for dinner is no easy task. We were instead asked to provide the dessert wine, a slightly easier yet still enjoyable duty.

My first thoughts turned to two of my Virginia favorites, Rockbridge Vineyard’s V d’Or and Tarara’s Wild River Red. The former a lovely sweet white and the later a semi-sweet red with 6% blackberry wine that is delicious with most kinds of chocolate. But the holidays are the perfect excuse to try something different. So, once we determined that the primary dessert would be chess pie (a very sweet, buttery southern delicacy), we headed over to one of our favorite local wine shops, The Curious Grape, to check out some different options. With the help of the staff, we selected three very different possibilities that we then tasted with three of our closest friends. We had a bit of cheese and Mrs. Wine with Dinner was kind enough to make a chess pie similar to what we will be having at Thanksgiving.

The first wine was the Degiorgis 2005 Moscato d’Asti, 4 Stars1/4, appx. $13.00 per bottle. This wine has good acidity and just a hint of fizzy. The palate displays pear and apple notes with a delicate mouth feel and a light 5.5% ABV. While everyone thoroughly enjoyed this wine it was dominated by the richness of the chess pie. It actually went much better with the cheeses and a bit of fig jam. Still looking for the right fit, we moved on to wine #2.

The second wine was the Chateau d’ArcheGrand Cru Classe 2003 Sauternes, 3 Stars3/4, appx. $20.00 per bottle. At 14% ABV, this certainly packed more of a punch than the Moscato. It had a thicker mouth feel and stronger, sweeter flavors of apricot and orange. While a very nice wine, this Sauternes again fell short when matched against the powerful sweetness of the chess pie. The sweet fruit flavors of the wine turned to a slightly bitter grapefruit taste when sipped with the chess pie. This is certainly a great option for a lighter, fruit-based dessert, but it was not going to work with chess pie at the in-laws’.

The third wine is one that I had tasted before and thoroughly enjoyed, Standing Stone‘s 2005 Vidal Ice, 4 Stars3/4, $24.99 per bottle. The Vidal Ice was actually similar to the Sauternes, only sweeter and with stronger fruit on the nose and palate. The wine is thick, but not too syrupy and has nice acidity and balance. It was the unanimous choice of the group as the best dessert wine to stand up to the richness of the chess pie. I returned to The Curious Grape the next day and bought five bottles to bring down to Nashville.

Vidal Ice Bottle Shot
A Bottle of Sweet Tasty Mmmm…

Standing Stone purchased its first vineyards overlooking Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes Region of New York in 1991. These vineyards were originally part of the famous Gold Seal Vineyards, where New York wine pioneers Charles Fournier (who worked with Dr. Konstantin Frank) and Guy DeVeaux (later of Mumm’s in Napa) did much of their original experimenting with vinifera in the Finger Lakes. It’s first vintage in 1993 produced only 800 cases, a number dwarfed by today’s 6500 strong.

Standing Stone
The Grounds at Standing Stone

Tom and Marti Macinski are the winemakers at Standing Stone. Their Vidal fruit comes from vineyard acreage first planted in 1975, making the 2005 vintage the vineyard’s thirtieth anniversary wine. I was surprised to learn that, despite the cold climate of the Finger Lakes, the Macinskis do not freeze their grapes on the vine to make their “ice wine.” The pair believes that freezing the grapes after harvest produces more consistent results and a higher quality final product. It also keeps the costs of production down, and thus lowers the price to the consumer.

The Macinski’s also make wines from varietals such as Chardonnay and Riesling from vineyards planted as early as 1972. According to Marti, you can find Standing Stone wines in the D.C. area in grocers such as Wegman’s and Whole Foods, and restaurants such as Charlie Palmer Steakhouse, 2941 Restaurant, The Capital Grill, and Scheider’s on Capital Hill.

A View of Riesling from the Deck at Standing Stone
A View of Riesling Vines from the Deck

A quality wine alone never ensures a quality dining experience. If you are looking for a last minute dessert wine for Thanksgiving dinner, consider the dessert that you will be serving before heading to the store. Generally, the sweeter the dessert, the sweeter the wine you need. One of the wines mentioned here might be the perfect end to your Thanksgiving.

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Published in: on November 21, 2007 at 10:32 am  Comments (5)  
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