Prestige in Napa – Bell Wine Cellars

Making their home in the beautiful town of Yountville, Bell Wine Cellars has been producing wine since 1991 specializing in grapes like Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet, Sav Blanc and Syrah.

The vineyards in Yountville are currently growing Chardonnay and Merlot. The winemaker Anthony Bell grows the other varietals across the other appellations in Napa.

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I was first introduced to this winery while I was at work sampling new wines that we were debating purchasing for the shop. The Syrah blew me away with its chocolate/mocha notes and dense mouthfeel. I loved all the different layers of flavor.

When I heard that our wine vendor was willing to book a tasting in CA for me, I jumped at the chance to see where my favorite Syrah was being produced.

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We pulled in to the cobblestone drive and were instantly greeted in drive way by one of the staff members. She checked us in and gave us a warm welcome. To my surprise, seconds behind our greeter was our new hostess carrying two glasses of California bubbles and a warm smile. Sandra Bell is the wife of winemaker Anthony Bell and she was a wealth of information about the winery. While sipping on our bubbly, Sandra took us around the winery we saw the fermentation tanks, wine barrel/aging rooms, grape picking equipment, and their beautiful vineyards.

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I was shocked to see that rows of vines had been ripped out due to an unexplained illness affecting the plants. When I inquired about it, Sandra mentioned that the valley has been fighting this issue for four years but they haven’t been able to identify whether it’s a plant illness or some kind of pest that is causing the vines to die.

Warning: there may be a shortage in CA wines in the future until this problem can be solved so stock up now!

After the vineyard tour, we started a wine tasting at the indoor tasting bar. Bell Wine Cellars offers a multitude of different tasting options including a current release tasting, a grape to glass tour, wine and cheese pairings, blending seminars, and sensory tastings. To be honest, I have no idea what tasting we did. But I know what we drank!

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We started with their 2015 estate Chardonnay which to me was medium bodied, with a crisp bite of acidity to start which transformed into a light caramel toast flavor at the end. I’m not normally a chardonnay person but it was a beautiful representation of California chardonnay tradition.

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Next was their Reserve Estate Merlot which was Anthony Bell’s best of that year. It was also medium-heavy body but it was a smooth criminal with hints of vanilla and chocolate after the ripe berry notes. It even had a slight bite after the swallow.

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Bell specializes in Cabernet and cloning of grapes. We tried the Cabernet Reserve which for the record is not available in MA. Their 2014 was a sunny and warm vintage which resulted in a not your average cabernet blend that was bright with berries yet layered with deeper notes of mocha and almost jammy touches. If you claim not to be a Cabernet person I would suggest ordering this bottle online or joining the wine club to taste it.

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Finally we ended with my favorite grape, the 2014 Syrah which is grown 4 hours away from their location in Yountville. This bottle was a step above the one I had tried previously at the shop. They used grapes specifically from Block 6 in the vineyards, and it was incredible. It was balanced, lighter tannins than I was expecting, bold yet controlled deep purple fruit flavor with little hints of cocoa. Straight up YUM.

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After the tasting, I got one more look around the property. It was cozy in the main tasting room with fire spires for warmth, private tasting rooms to the right, and outside were two bocce ball courts for fun in the sun.

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For lack of better words, it was probably the most high class winery I had ever been to. You see the how much care and hands on treatment goes into every bottle of wine. The barrel room alone holds millions of dollars of product yet the staff were so humble and happy to answer any of our questions no matter how dumb they may have sounded. Their wines range from $30 – $100 plus a bottle. However, it is money well spent.

Be sure to visit this winery on your way through the valley or see if their wines are sold near you!

Cheers!

Wine bottle photos from bellwine.com

Pura: Our Bottled Sangria of the Season

Nothing beats creating your own sangria recipe based off your favorite summer flavors, but sometimes you need to grab a bottle of sangria on the go.  Not everyone has the time to let a sangria pitcher sit overnight, or maybe you want to try someone else’s take on the season’s favorite wine cocktail.

This summer, our current fave is Pura, an all-organic, Spanish import, bottled sangria bursting with flavor inside the bottle – and color on the outside!

It’s a fruity, zesty sangria overflowing with prominent orange and blackberry flavors. It’s made with 100% Monastrell grapes – or, as the French call it, Mourvèdre. The finished product is juicy and light on the palate: the perfect wine for summer sipping.

We’d be remiss not to mention the gorgeous bottle. The split color, polka-dots, and the orange-headed lady – a clear fruit enthusiast,  sets the  wine scene before you open it.   Bottles are often deceiving, but this one is right on the mark!

It’s versatile, too, depending on the weather or your mood. We love this sangria straight from the bottle, or on the rocks during a hot afternoon. Want more bite? Try adding in a nip or two of citrus vodka or orange brandy; you won’t be disappointed. If you happen to create an amazing PURA sangria cocktail, try submitting your invention to their mixology page where you can literally win prizes for your summer drinking habits.

If you see this sangria at your local wine outlet, snag it while you can. We hope you enjoy sipping this drink during the hottest days of summer!

Cava’s Little Sister, Summer White!

Just when you think Spain can’t get anymore ingenious after inventing sangria, they share yet another one of their long standing traditions: vi d’agulla from Avinyó

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In Catalan, the name means ‘prickly wine.’ But despite it’s Spanish origins, this label reads ‘Petillant,’ which is a French wine designation meaning ‘slightly sparking.’

Avinyó’s Petillant white wine is produced in Catalonia Spain, with 80% Petit Grain Muscat and 20% Macabeu grapes. After being fermented in stainless steel tanks, the wine is given its light bubbles from the Charmat Method (tank method)  in a secondary tank.

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Why is it Catalonia’s summer drink of choice? Probably because it’s everything you need from a summer white. Crisp, lightly acidic, blooming with lychee and green apple flavors, floral, with tiny almost metallic bubbles that are a match made in heaven for summer seafood pairings – as if the tiny silver fishes on the label didn’t give it away.

If you happen to come across any petillant or vi d’agulla wines in your travels this summer PLEASE take the opportunity to taste them ice cold with all your summer food choices.

¡Salud!

Shake Before Serving: Mollydooker “The Boxer” Shiraz

If you’re a Shiraz fan, it’s likely you’ve heard someone rave about Mollydooker at some point. At the wine shop where Half-Past’s Kristen works, customers rush in whenever they hear a new case has shipped, anxiously stocking up on the Australian Shiraz. Even when we went to a local wine outlet and snagged a bottle of “The Boxer” ourselves, the cashier got wide-eyes and remarked, “You know your wine.”

So, what’s the hype? And what is Mollydooker, anyway?

We had quite the adventure getting to know this wine. Read closely: the way you drink this wine heavily affects its taste and texture. 

Not yet knowing any better, we poured our glasses through an aerator, like we would any other full-bodied red. The wine had a strong alcohol smell, and a bit of a burn on the palate in the aftertaste. We noticed a peppery aroma and loved its dark garnet color.

With our aerated glass, we noted a smooth start and a stinging finish. The wine had light spices and even slight notes of mocha among the prominent dark berry flavors.

But this is where things get interesting: the bottle is actually supposed to be shaken, not aerated, before serving. 

While drinking, we noticed a note on the side of the bottle leading us to the winemaker’s YouTube channel. Here, there was a video tutorial on how to properly serve the wine. We’ve shared the video below.

 

The ‘Mollydooker shake’ will create a foam layer of nitrogen in the bottle. After shaking, the nitrogen releases flavor back up to through the wine that it had been preserving previously. This process is also part of the winemaker’s efforts to reduce sulfides, which naturally occur in wines but can cause adverse side affects to some drinkers.

With this method instead of aeration, many of the spicy and mocha flavors we’d noted before were no longer present. It was smoother on the palate and easier drinking in general.

We hope that when you try out Mollydooker Shiraz, you’ll get it right the first time, unlike us!

Happy drinking!

Color Me Purple: Petite Petit

Elephant brothers, Petite Sirah (a red grape) and Petit Verdot (normally a French blending red grape), completely steal the show in this circus themed wine from Michael David Winery.

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As you may remember, we at Half-Past already fell in love with this winery’s Seven Deadly Zins – and their Petite Petit red blend was one for the record books. Get ready to be entertained by this dark purple wine.

This bottle is the definition of jammy. It’s silky smooth with almost creamy tannins and a  slightly gamey finish (no doubt thanks to the 16 months it spends in French Oak barrels). The wine is juicy in the front, smokey in the back, boasting straight up plum flavor with currant ripeness. Petite Petit has a bold and luscious full body with a hint of spice.

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Dear Red lovers, If you have never tried Petite Sirah or Petit Verdot we highly recommend you taste this wine; however, make sure you are not in public! The wine won’t be the only elephant in the room: after one glass of this wine, your friends will wonder how to politely ask you to brush your teeth. The pictures don’t do it justice.

 

Enjoy the circus! Let us know what you thought!

Feature image from lodiwine.com

Rare find! – Ancient Peaks Winery

Picture owning a large cattle ranch in central California…and one day some big wine conglomerate comes by and wants to buy patches of your land to grow grapes. Three years later, the grapes are finally ready to be turned into wine, but the conglomerate wants to leave – What luck! Buy the land back, and now you have perfectly managed wine fields that are yours for production. This is the lucky story of Ancient Peaks Winery at the Santa Margarita Ranch.

Don’t worry: they are still a cattle ranch too,but now produce a line up of over 8 different wines each growing in 5 different kinds of soils. Each bottle specifies which soil the grapes were grown in the back label. Did I mention that one of their soil types in an ancient sea bed? Picture massive fossilized oyster shells popping up among the grape vines!

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Why is this winery a rare find? The inside scoop is that only 6 different wine shops in the whole state of MA have been presented with the Ancient Peaks wines. We don’t have any information about other states, but so far the number of places to possibly purchase this wine is limited.

So stay on the lookout! If the search doesn’t prove fruitful, check out their online store to see if they ship to your state. Kristen was lucky enough to try their Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Zinfandel.

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Cabernet Sauvignon  

It’s a rare day where I enjoy all of the wines that I try in one sitting. This cabernet was a perfect balance of everything we love about the grape. It wasn’t overly fruity or tart, it was smooth with softer tannins with medium body weight. Showing flavors of dark berries and even very subtle hints of cocoa on the mid palate. Perfect for dinner or just stand alone drinking.

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Merlot 

Now, Merlot I am very skeptical off because normally it is not my favorite grape. But this bottle was wonderfully produced.  It was velvety, rich, with black cherry and plummy notes and it included that signature mocha smell that you can expect from the grape. This bottle advertises that it was grown in the ancient sea bed, which might have something to do with its subdued quality. It’s a must for red meats or even game meats if you want to take the flavor up a notch.

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Zinfandel 

This has to be one of my favorite zinfandels yet. It was juicy, refreshing, quenching, and yet the fruit flavor was controlled in a way that made it enjoyable sip after sip. With bright berry notes in the front and a slight tart and pepper zing at the finish, this wine is a fun ride for your palate and I hope you get the chance to nab this bottle.

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Just in case giant sea shells wasn’t enough of a draw, the next time you are in CA I would recommend stopping by their site. Not only are there cows, a cafe, tasting room, and tours but they now host a 2.5 hour long zip line experience across their property!

Happy Wine Hunting!

Vineyard Header Photo from ancientpeaks.com

Tilia: A Malbec for any occassion

We’ve all been there: craving a glass or two of red wine after work, but not wanting to crack open that delicious bottle we’ve been saving because we know it’ll go sour after a few days exposed to air. You don’t want to settle for a bad brand just because you won’t feel bad when it turns, but you don’t want to risk spoiling your favorite, either.

Thankfully, Tilia Malbec has us covered.

 

Tilia has all the basics for a perfect Malbec, and with an affordable price to-boot (ranging from $7.99-9.99). The grapes grown in the world’s Malbec capital (Mendoza, Argentina), and like many Argentinian wines, the bottle comes with a screw cap.

The bonus from that? The wine lasts significantly longer than other red wines, because the re-usable cap prevents air from reaching the wine. This makes Tilia the perfect wine for a casual night during the week; you can have a glass or two by yourself without fearing it’ll spoil by the weekend.

With an aroma bursting with plum, the wine delivers both plum and black cherry flavors. It’s smooth, easy-drinking but holds its own, carrying bold and juicy flavors through to the last sip. It’s great with dinner, or as a solo glass in the evening.

But what’s with the tree, you’re wondering?

The gorgeous design on the bottle is meant to represent a native tree in Mendoza whose leaves make a relaxing herbal tea. The wine makers hope this will relay the Argentinian spirit for hard work and close families.

And the wine is quite relaxing – perfect for a glass or two to take the edge off of a weekday.

Cheers!

From Spotlight to Moonlight

The Half Past crew (along with our friend and photographer for the day, Vicky Salch) drove up to NH to visit a modern meadery that’s bringing a vintage beverage back into fashion.

We discovered Moonlight Meadery at the annual Harvest Fest in Salem, MA. Their company produces Mead (wine made from honey, not grapes) and hard ciders. Their mead line-up at the festival was impressive, but we were shocked to see how many different flavors and kinds of mead they produce when we visited their tasting room and production facility in Londonderry.

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Who is Moonlight Meadery?

Michael Fairbrother noticed his male friends enjoyed his home brews, but his female friends didn’t seem to feel the excitement. Soon after he happened upon a Cyzer (mead made with apple cider) and his life changed forever. Fairbrother finally found a drink that would unite all of his friends.

In 2010, he launched the Moonlight Meadery LLC after winning Meadmaker of the Year at the New England Regional Home Brewers Competition. Now, Moonlight Meadery beverages can be found in 30 states and internationally in Australia and Japan.

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How does Moonlight make their brand of mead? 

The production facility receives honey in 3200 lb boxes that are then heated to 80°F so that the liquid honey can be pumped into fermentation tanks. The large quantity of honey is then mixed with water and yeast. Moonlight specifically uses White Wine Yeast to start the process. The fermentation is heavily regulated in large metal tanks because the chemical reaction naturally produces sulfites and heat. If the temperature gets too high, it ferments into toxic alcohol.

The fermented mixture is then transferred to giant plastic tanks to age for 1 to 3 months. In these tanks,  the meadery adds aromatics like cinnamon, vanilla, peppers, etc.  Barrel aged meads are transferred to old beer or whiskey oak barrels instead of plastic to age. These meads can age 10+ years like their Utopian mead, which is aged for 5 years in former Samuel Adams beer casks.

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Next, the mead is filtered to remove dead yeast and sediment. On our tour, we discovered the meadery’s new filtering machine costs $90,000 and filters 400 gallons of mead an hour.

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Moonlight Meadery produces 45+ different kinds of mead, including two new apple ciders. The tasting room has 29 meads currently on the menu which are divided into 7 categories that range from dry to sweet in style.

We did the Tour & Tasting option, which allowed us to taste one mead from each category after the tour.  We cheated a bit and shared our samples, so we got to try 21 meads and their ‘Them Little Apples’ cider. For tasting and tour prices check out their website.

21 is obviously a lot of mead, so which ones stood out the most? Get ready for the Half-Past inside scoop!

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Moondance

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Moondance is a pyment style mead (mead made with honey and grapes) aged in oak casks for 2 years. They decided to use Riesling grapes for this dry style mead. It was crisp, floral, nutty, and light and a perfect starter mead to buy that will introduce you slowly to this wine style. Its the wine lovers mead!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meadowfoam

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Nothing beats the classics!

Meadowfoam is a traditional style mead and is the perfect representation of this ancient beverage. If you have never tried mead before or maybe never even heard of if before this post, we recommend that you try this bottle. Its made from 100% orange blossom honey, moderately sweet, and won the silver medal in 2015.

 

 

 

 

Kurt’s Apple Pie

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Holy yum, this is their gold medal winner cyzer style mead that literally tastes like classy liquid apple pie. It’s produced with local apple cider, Madagascar-bourbon vanilla, and Vietnamese cinnamon. Why bake a pie when you can drink it?

 

 

 

 

Wild

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It’s a match made in heaven: blueberries and honey. This mead is made with unprocessed wildflower honey and wild grown mountain NH blueberries. Technically it’s a dry style mead but we would say that its juicy, fruity, fresh, and coats your mouth in berry flavor.

 

 

 

 

Mojo

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Get saucy with this Latin inspired mead. It has lime and mint flavors that pair surprisingly well with honey. We know how hard wine pairing is with spicy food, but luckily Moonlight has already figured it out.

 

 

 

 

 

So, we tasted all we could and gave you some recommendations. But you’re probably wondering which mead stole the show………drum roll please…..

Smolder

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We are resisting making a Tangled reference here, but this mead is spicy, sweet, fruity, rich, and smooth. We personally took home bottles after our tasting.  This is a controlled, sweet heat that may not be as intimidating as you think. A sip greets you with sweet, fruity flavors, but the spice increases on the palate the longer you hold the it on your tongue. Once you swallow the heat releases, leaving no spice on the tongue as the raspberry flavor returns. It’s fun, warm, and definitely worth a try.

 

 

After the tasting was over, we got an behind the scenes look at the company’s current ideas for their rebrand. They hope to do away with old full moon logo to welcome a more modern and sleek design. Here’s a comparison shot to give you the idea.

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Even though the mead bottles are only 375ml (half the size of a standard wine bottle), you can expect to pay anywhere between $15 and $22 per bottle.  Each bottle will last 2 weeks at room temperature or 1 month in the refrigerator after opening. We highly recommend that you visit their tasting room or attend an event where Moonlight Meadery is in attendance before you buy. Even ‘dry’ style mead may still seem sweet to your average wine drinker.

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We hope you enjoyed our review of Moonlight Meadery. If you stop by let us know what you think! We’ll see you soon!

Stay Thirsty!

 

 

 

 

What Exactly is Honey Wine?

If I said mead, you probably say: what? Or immediately think of the Canterbury Tales. Either way, mead isn’t a common or familiar word in our day in age. But modern wine and beer experts are bringing it back because, at it’s core, mead is honey wine. 

Mead consists of three simple ingredients: yeast, honey, and water.

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If you think the concept of drinking boozy honey is weird, you’ll probably be surprised to hear that mead predates wine. And by a lot. Mead dates back as far as 20,000 years ago with ties to 7000 BC China.

Mead is so old, we don’t even know its origin story. Historians guess that it was accidentally concocted as a result of ancient honey-storing techniques. It’s theorized that honey was kept in pots with a layer of water on top to keep away lazy bees (why pollinate when the honey’s sitting right there in a bucket?) It’s likely that the water naturally attracted wild yeasts that then fermented the honey water. 

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Mead was the original wingman

The term”honeymoon” is actually derived from the tradition of providing newlyweds with enough mead to last an entire month or to the next full moon. Honey wine for a month = honeymoon.

The hope was that the bride and groom were more likely to produce offspring with the help of a mead-induced buzz. Not exactly romantic, but probably practical in the days of planned marriages, especially those specifically arranged to create heirs.

But let’s get back to the drink in hand

Mead is around 75% water and 25% honey. It’s fruity brother, Cyzer, swaps water for apple cider.

There are three common types of mead:

Hydromil = This mead is usually carbonated with 10-15% honey by volume (hbv), which ferments into 3-7% alcohol

Standard = This is usually a still mead with 15-20% hbv, which makes 7 – 14% abv.

Sack = This is a syrupy dessert mead with  50% hbv and 14% abv. Unfortunately, the extra alcohol also comes with additional tax, so sacks are a bit more rare at independent meaderies. 

Want mead? SAVE THE BEES!

Good meaderies respect the bees and use certified honey. This means only 15% of the total hive honey is extracted for commercial use. If more than 15% of the honey is extracted, it can cause hive collapse; this is when bees abandon their home. Overuse of honey  directly affects the survival of honeybees. 

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80% of honey in the US is produced in North and South Dakota. Bees are loaded with their hives into giant semi-trucks and brought around the country to pollinate crops. Not all honey is pure however, China and Thailand have been caught producing fake honey (made from high fructose corn syrup) in response to the bee and honey crisis, so mead-makers have to be careful  to avoid fake honey. 

What else do I need to know about mead?

Just like wine, mead can be mixed with other flavors to create unique tastes! Common flavors include apple, cinnamon, vanilla, and fruits (blueberry, raspberry, etc).

Stay tuned for an article on Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, NH, for an exclusive on local mead culture and flavors!

CC Attribution: “Honey Bee” by John (cygnus921 @flickr)