Max’s Tavern Pours Tree House Brewing Tornado IPA (LIMITED!!!)

by Brian Mitchell, Corporate Beverage Director, Max Restaurant Group

Max’s Tavern is Springfield is turning a new leaf of sorts and will be featuring a very special and limited brew this weekend.  We have one log of the Tree House Brewing Torando IPA, a beer that was born during the June 2011 Springfield tornado (click here to read the brewery’s account of that fateful day).  Tree House Brewing Co. is located off-the-beaten-path in Brimfield, mass, and due to recent zoning issues, may or may not be continuing producing the highly regarded brews they have become known for over the past year.

Brewery description of the Tree House Tornado IPAtree house brewing

“Tornado” – An extremely liberally hopped APA.  Tornado was crafted during the unfortunate events surrounding the June 1st, 2011 Brimfield Tornado.  We created the beer in honor of the circumstances as we experienced them and luckily escaped the path by 1/2 mile.  Tornado is loaded with notes of pine, tropical fruit, and citrus.  At 5.6% alcohol, it’s super refreshing.

We are very fortunate to have secured one of the handful of remaining kegs and will be tapping it at 5 pm on Saturday, July 20.  Typically there are only about 45 pours from a log, so when the beer is gone, its gone, maybe forever, but not forgotten…much like the tornado it is named for.

Join us at Max’s Tavern in Springfield at the Basketball Hall of Fame to get a taste of this special brew.  Call 413-746-6299 for additional details.

Drink of the Week at Max’s Tavern: Moonshine Mojito

By Brian Mitchell, Corporate Beverage Director Max Restaurant Group

Moonshine mojito (summer 2013)

Max’s Tavern in Springfield, Massachusetts, has been working very hard to bring some really creative and tasty cocktails to their menus.  This summer we have a great lineup of cocktails to offer guests, and the response from those trying the drinks is absolutely fabulous; everyone is happy and thrilled with the selection.

One drink in particular seems to be doing very well – the Moonshine Mojito.  This drink was created and placed on the summer menu to take advantage of some great product coming out of a local distiller, Bully Boy Distillers from Boston.  We use their White Whiskey as the base and hit it some fresh mint and lime juice, juts like a classic mojito recipe.

bully-boy-white-whiskey

 

Refreshing and smooth is the best way to describe it, with no heavy “whiskey” fl
Come on down to Max’s Tavern (at the Basketball Hall of Fame) and try another great Max Cocktail.avors, this beverage is delicate and very drinkable, especially during the summer heat-waves.

Cheers!

Max Burger WH Brewery of the Month: Hooker (Bloomfield, CT)

Max Burger CircleEach month Max Burger of West Hartford selects a brewery to feature and showcase special beers and drink nights around.  For the month of July, the select Brewery of the Month is Thomas Hooker Brewery of Bloomfield, CT.  The Max Restaurant Group has a close working relationship with the Hooker staff as they brew the Brewtus Maximus American Pale Ale, which is the house beer at the Max Group and the Pale Ale selection in the Hooker beer line-up.

hooker logoAside from Brewtus Maximus, Thomas Hooker beers will be on feature all month.  Plus, there will be a special evening on Wednesday July 17, featuring small batch variations on some of Hooker’s regular beers, including a Rauch style Helles.  The guys from Hooker came over to Max Burger last week and smoked some malts in the smoker at the restaurant.  They have used this custom smoked malt as an ingredient in this very limited production version of the Munich Helles Rauch Bier, which is a “lighter” style smoked lager beer perfect for summer and smoked/grilled meats.

Here is how the brewery describes the beer – Munich dark, pilsen and vienna malts blended with special grains smoked right on site at Max Burger. This light style lager has a smokey flavor with a bready finish. This sessionable lager is sure to please a variety of palates.  ABV 5%

The concept for this style and the quality of the Hooker products can be attributed to the two brewers at the company.  These are two young but experienced brewers that have recently joined forces at Hooker and are making huge strides in quality and taste improvements.  They have a smaller brew system for making variations on their regular line plus some test batches.  The future is bright for Thomas Hooker Brewery and their brewmaster, Stephen Andrews, and his assistant Sean Piels (see their bio’s below).

SpinsterAnother Hooker beer that you will find on draft throughout the month at Max Burger is the Hooker Spinster XPA – the Spinster name comes from the fact that this is a single hop varietal Ale, hence the Spinster…Single…get it?  Tasty though, not mean and nasty.

Here is what they says about this one…

Dry Hopped Spinster XPA (cask conditioned)- We took our newest creation, the Spinster XPA, and dry hopped with Mosaic and Citra hops. The unfiltered XPA’s citrus aroma from late addition Summit hops blends with the Mosaic’s mango and lemon notes as well as the Citra’s tropical tones. ABV 4.8%

Meet the Brewers…

Stephen Andrews – Head Brewer

A graduate of Chicago’s World Brewing Academy International Diploma in Brewing Technology Program at Siebel Institute of Technology and Doemen’s Academy in Munich, Germany, Stephen also has a degree from the London based Institute of Brewing and Distilling. While studying and training as a brewer, Stephen’s travels have brought him to Bavaria, Austria, Belgium, England and an expansive tour of Germany. During his time in Germany, he trained in authentic German styles using a 7 barrel Steinecker brewing system. Back in the states, this Simsbury local joined the Thomas Hooker team in early 2011, where he has brought a wealth of creativity and brewing knowledge.

Sean Piel – Brewer

A graduate of Brewlab School of British Brewing Technology, Sean first found his passion for beer home brewing with his father at a young age. After attending Brewlab, Sean traveled to Belgium, Scotland and Ireland. Sean ended up spending time living in England and Germany to learn about different breweries, techniques of brewing and different beers. He rounded out his stay in Europe with a year long internship at Stoettner Brewing Company in Pfaffenburg, Germany. Upon his return to his native Connecticut, Sean came on board as a brewer at Thomas Hooker Brewing Company in the end of 2012.

 

Max Downtown’s New Drinks Perfect for Summer Heat

By Brian Mitchell, Corporate Beverage Director

At Max Downtown in Hartford, our lead bartender, Mike Mills, created this drink for the summer menu.  He is a big fan of Russian Vodka and the way it takes to infusions, such as the pepper mix he uses for this drink.  The depth of flavor achieved by combining three pepper elements is great and really makes this drink pop.  The spicy note added by combining Jalapeno and pepper corns, plus the touch of spice from the Habanero shrub, play off of the fruity elements from the mango and the sweet bell pepper.  I think it is this sweet and spicy play that has really made it a popular drink among our guests, plus this drink is surprisingly light and refreshing, perfect for battling the heavy heat and humidity of summertime.

This drink is called the Spicy Tango

spicy tango - MDRecipe:

2oz Pepper Infused Hammer & Sickle Vodka (see below)
.5oz Pierre Ferrand Curacao
1oz Fresh Lime Juice
2 tsp Mango Puree
5 drops Bitterman’s Habanero Shrub

To make the House Infused Vodka:

1 liter Hammer & Sickle Russian Vodka
½  red bell pepper, sliced
2 table spoons Black peppercorns
1 Jalapeno, sliced, no seeds
Let infuse for 3 days, stirring once a day.

Max’s Tavern Summer Solstice Cocktail Party this Thursday

By Brian Mitchell, Corporate Beverage Director, Max Restaurant Group

This week at Max’s Tavern in Springfield we are very pleased to announce the first of a series of Summer Cocktail parties.  The theme for this week will be a celebration of the Summer Solstice along with the introduction of our brand new summer drink list.  Come on in and enjoy tastings of our new line-up of summer drinks prepared by Max’s Tavern’s Craft Bartenders, music by the Floyd Paterson Band, and tasty bites paired with our cocktails.  

As a bonus feature we will have a sampling and cocktail demonstration using the Boston-based Bully Boy Distillers‘ award winning White Whiskey.  Produced on a local farm right here in Massachusetts from Prohibition-inspired recipes rediscovered after being buried for 70 years, these libations are catching the eye of some of the top media and drink makers in the country.  We are fortunate enough to have their local representative on hand for this evening to share the story and help you taste these great spirits.

The party runs from 4-6 pm, this Thursday June 20th.  See you there!

More this summer:

July 18 – Tiki Drinks

August 22 – Lazy Days and Long Drinks

September 19 – Endless Summer

For more info call Max’s Tavern at

413-746-6299

or visit our site at http://www.maxrestaurantgroup.com/calendar.php

Rhubarb – perfect for Dessert and for Drinks

By Brian Mitchell, Corporate Beverage Director, Max Restaurant Group

Rhubarb is an early spring ripening plant in the northeast US, and it has been a favorite addition in desserts for many years, especially this time of year where it is often found paired with the seasonal strawberries.  With its slightly tart side, it works especially well with sweet berry flavors in pastry desserts such as pies.  

Technically classified in 1947, by the US Government as a fruit, as this is how it predominantly used, rhubarb is a plant that grows around the world in moderate climates.  Because it is an early ripening perennial it is often ready to eat just about the time strawberries are in season, adding to the close association of the two foods.  We make use of the petioles, which are the stem-like parts that hold the large leaves.  These look like large stalks and are usually sliced up or pureed to be used in cooking.

This past Friday night (June 14th), I made a cocktail using some rhubarb and other ingredients.  This drink was a featured cocktail at the first Chef to Farm Dinner at Rosedale Farm in Simsbury, CT., and was served alongside the amuse course.  It is a light and refreshing drink with a sweet/tart component plus that added floral component from the gin.  I received so many requests for the recipe that I am listing it here.  

Rhubarb Botanical (this was served in a Mason jar, so the overall size is about 16oz)

1.5 ounces rhubarb syrup/puree (see below)

3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

1.5 ounces Cold River Gin (Maine)

dash of home-made Meyer lemon bitters (or similar)

2-3 ounces tonic water

mix everything in Mason jar or highball glass except tonic, fill with ice and then top with tonic

Garnish with sliced strawberries

Rhubarb Syrup

1-2 stalks of rhubarb in a quart of simple syrup (1:1 water and sugar)

let soak 24-48 hours, puree some or all of the rhubarb for added texture

Beer Education: Summer Styles

Now that the days are good and long and our guests are enjoying the patio dining, warm temps and lighter dining options, it’s time to put aside the Porters and Stouts and enjoy some of the refreshing beer options for summer.  But what are summer beers?  Is there a definitive “summer brew” style like the all-powerful IPA style?  The answer, like all things in the beverage world, is a bit yes and a bit no.

Summer Beers are part of the large array of ‘seasonals’ produced by American brewers and we probably have Sam Adams to thank for making the seasonal “craft” brew category what it is today (Sam Adams Summer Ale is currently in rotation on draft at many Max locations, including Max’s Tavern in Springfield).  20 years ago there were really not many options for brewery specific summer beers, you just moved to a lighter style of beer, often by another brewer.  Now we have loads of options and the breweries do what ever they can t get you to stay with their brand, but are all summer beers made the same?  Doubtful.

Kölsch, Wheats and Fruited beers are probably the closest to true or classic warm weather styles, although there are many folks that would add other styles to this mix.  But let’s focus on these, as they can represent some of the best beer drinking during the warm months.

KÖLSCH – this style of beer comes from Koln, Germany, and is traditionally served icy cold in smaller, 8oz glasses to keep it cold-to-the-last-drop.  American brewers are recreating this style that is essentially an ale that has been lagered (cold stored to create a smooth, creamy texture).  Look for Flying Dog Tire Biter, Harpoon Summer (currently on draft at Max A Mia in Avon), Cpt Lawrence Kölsch, or for an authentic German style get the Reisdorff Kölsch (Max Burger Longmeadow).

 

 

WHEAT BEERS – a widely used grain, especially in southern Belgium and Germany, where the lightness and freshness of these beers, as well as their affinity for fruit, make them delightful for warm weather.  Arguably the best are the Hefeweizen styles from Germany, such as Schneider (Trumbull Kitchen) and Weihenstephaner (Max Burger Longmeadow), but great American examples can be found as well, such as Allagash (Max’s Oyster Bar), Victory Summer Love (in rotation at Max Burger West Hartford), Harpoon UFO (Max Downtown), and Southern Tier Hop Sun Wheat.

FRUITED BEERS – maybe not everybody’s cup of tea (so to speak) but fruit beers are very popular and sell like crazy this time of year.  The tradition comes down from Europe, especially Belgium, where many ingredients, not just fruit were added to beer to mask what was probably poor quality.  Over time these techniques and styles were perfected so the best are the Lambic styles from Belgium.  American brewers have been making delicious fruit beers in a variety of style for years, as well.  Look for Magic Hat #9, Hooker Watermelon, or Harpoon’s UFO Raspberry and 21st Amendment Watermelon (in the can at Max Burger Longmeadow).  Traditional Lambic from Lindemans are still popular, as well.

A side category to the fruited beers is the Shandy, which is a mix of beer and lemonade – usually 50/50.  This is a light, refreshing style that is low alcohol and easy to drink in the warm weather.  Pale Ales (such as Brewtus Maximus) are great here.  You can also add Ginger Beer to the mix instead of lemonade.  This is called a Gaff, or Shandy-Gaff, and is quite tasty if you like ginger.  Each of these beer drinks are available at any Max location, year round.

Patio Dinner at Max A Mia – June 17 Wine from Piedmont

We are pleased to announce that the 2013 Summer Patio Dinner Series at Max A Mia in Avon, will kick off with a regional dinner focusing on the wines of Piemonte in Northwest Italy, featuring the wines of Marchesi di Barolo, one of the most historic properties in the entire region.

It is at Marchesi di Barolo that the modern style of Barolo was created in the mid-1800s, and is today where innovation and tradition combine to move the region forward with stylish wines.  Chef David Stickney from Max A Mia has created a pairing menu that highlights his modern approach to classic northern Italian cuisine served along the selections from Marchesi di Barolo.  David Rudman, Wine Specialist from Brescome Barton, Inc, will be on hand to discuss the wines.  This is the first of a monthly series at Max A Mia, and the plan is to hold the dinner on our patio, which seats about 40.  Please make your reservations early as we expect this event to sell-out quickly.

Max A Mia Presents an Italian Regional Wine Dinner

Featuring Piemonte and the wines of Marchesi di Barolo

Monday June 17, 2013 – 6:30

With Special Guest David Rudman of Brescome Barton, Importers & Distributors

I

-Marchesi di Barolo Gavi, 2010-

Veal loin carpaccio, morel mushroom salad,

ruccola, tonatto aioli, Reggiano cookie

II

– Marchesi di Barolo Barbera Monferrato Maraia, 2010 –

Cacciatorini agnolotti,  green onion pesto, cured

 olives, castelmagno cheese

III

– Marchesi di Barolo Dolcetto d’Alba Madonna, 2009 –

Cotechino & carnaroli stuffed quail, crispy

lardo polenta, bing cherry fresca

IV

-Marchesi di Barolo Barolo Cru Sarmassa, 2006 –

Braised Piemontese oxtail, saffron spatzle,

horseradish greens, marrow demi

V

-Marchesi di Barolo Moscato d’Asti Zagara, nv-

Fritto misto dolce, nutella brodetto

$68.00 per person, not including tax & gratuity

Seating will be on the patio and is limited.  In the event of inclement weather the event will be held in Max a Mia’s main dining room.

Please call Max A Mia in Avon for reservations

860-677-6299

70 East Main Street, Avon, Ct

Max Family Cuvee White – Just In Time For Summer

By Brian Mitchell – Corporate Beverage Director, Max Restaurant Group

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of travelling to Sonoma and Napa Valleys to visit with some wineries and to spend some time with the winemakers for our Max Family Cuvee wines.  The news at this point is that we will be introducing a brand new wine to the mix at each Max location, hopefully in just a few weeks.  This wine is the innaugural vintage of Max Family Cuvee White – a Sauvignon Blanc heavy white blend that also has some Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Viognier in the mix.  

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend a few hours with Zach Long, the winemaker responsible for making the Max Family Cuvee White, as well as head winemaker at Kunde Estate, located in Sonoma.  The white Cuvee will carry a Sonoma appellation, which is different than the red with a Napa designation, and this is the region that Zach Long likes and knows the best.  When we were putting the first blends together back in December and January, we were initially working with the Girard team that makes the red Cuvee, but I wanted something a bit different and knew that the same company that owns Girard, also works with Kunde.  I liked the wines from Sonoma for their soft fruit and fleshy palate style and was hoping that we could get the same style for the white Cuvee.  Eventually we found some wines that seem to fit what I was looking for and so now our Max Family White will be made at Kunde Estate, the best option for this style of wine.

Zach Long, winemaker for Max Family Cuvee White Blend

On my visit, Zach took me on a tour of the property which is over 100 years old and is more than 1600 acres situated in the shadow of Sonoma Mountain, just south of Santa Rosa.  Kunde produces Sauvignon Blanc as a large percentage of its regular out-put, and Zach showed me the exact vineyard blocks that make up our white Cuvee.  These are older blocks that often will held for reserve level wines.  Kunde Winery grows a range of grapes varietals, both red and white, and with so much soil and topographical diversity, this gives them tremendous resources when it comes to having many options for blending.  Red and white grapes are grown on both flat vineyards and hillsides that range over 1500 feet in elevation.  Having this much diversity, it is possible to get multi-layered complexity in wines, adding depth and character to just about everything made here.

For the Max Family White Cuvee, we went back and forth on a umber of different options, finally settling on a  blend that is Sauvignon Blanc based with smaller percentages of Gewurztraminer, Viognier and even some high acid Chardonnay to build in extra mouth-feel.  I personally get a great response when I serve Sonoma Sauvignons because they tend to bring together the best of what Sauvignon can offer in cool climates like New Zealand – fresh tropical fruits and racy acidity, but also show some restraint that is more common to Loire Valley Sauvignons from France.  Balanced and fruit forward this wine will work well with what Max does best, such as fresh seafood as Max’s Oyster Bar, Max Fish, Max’s Tavern and Max Downtown, or great Asian influenced dishes at Trumbull Kitchen, to the salads and lighter fair at Max Burger and our Italian locations.

The label has been approved by the Federal Government and we are now awaiting CT and MA State approval.  We hope to have this wine to our restaurants by the middle of June and serving it year-round.  We are planning a kick-off party to launch this great addition to our Max Family, details to follow as soon as we have label approval and know the dates for shipping from Sonoma.

Max Family Cuvee Red (Napa Blend) – New Vintage Update

By Brian Mitchell – Corporate Beverage Director, Max Restaurant Group

Lat week I had the opportunity to visit the Napa Valley in Northern California, and one of the people/places I visited was the winemaker and facility that produce our Max Cuvee Red Blend.  The winemaker is Glenn Hugo, the lead winemaker for Girard Winery, which is a Napa focused winery that has been in existence for over 30 years.  Glenn has been the winemaker at Girard for the past six years and has been responsible for all but the very first vintage of Max Family Cuvee Red.  

This was the first year that I traveled to Napa to work on the Max Cuvee, and when I received the directions for the winery it was not a Napa address, which I was expecting, but instead a Sonoma based address.  Now, I kind of knew what I was going to be seeing, but it was interesting to actually see where the wine is produced – essentially it is in a  large warehouse facility that is home to about 20 different “wineries” and is in an industrial park in Sonoma.  If you are picturing an idyllic farm house winery situated among rows of vines somewhere off the Silverado Trail, you have the wrong image of what a winery might be.  This building is a long warehouse that is broken into “suites” (sections) where a lot of wine-making is taking place – Girard and Max Family Cuvee among them, as well as notable neighbors Patz & Hall.

Even though the wine-making is done in this less glamorous location, the Girard Winery does not down-play this.  In fact, they are proud of the fact that this location allows them to produce wine in both an economical and environmentally efficient manner.  By having a smaller more compact facility, with shared resources and minimal maintenance, the costs are lower than having to maintain a big fancy show-room winery.  Plus they have the ability to use necessary equipment and other resources to make great wine – things that may not always be available on a farm-style winery.  For instance, Glenn Hugo mentioned that the water they use at the facility is reclaimed, filtered through their equipment after use and is actually returned to the city of Sonoma cleaner than when it came in the winery.  It also should be noted that the “winery” part of the winery looks and functions just like any winery, warehouse or stand-alone.  They have all the equipment and space (even more perhaps) than at most of the wineries I have visited, including a lab, ferment and storage tanks, bottling line, and hundreds and hundreds of barrels for aging.  No difference, just not as pretty.

Glenn Hugo - Max Family Cuvee Winemaker

But what comes out of the winery is as good as any comparable facility and priced wines. Glenn spent the better part of the morning walking me through barrel samples of Chardonnay, Grenache (his own label), multiple lots of Zinfandel and other varietals, as well as the new 2011 lots of wine that will ultimately make up the blend for the next vintage of Max Family Cuvee Red.  If you follow the wine media at all you have probably heard that 2011 was a challenging year in Napa Valley.  The weather was not as warm as is typical, and the ability for many to get fully ripe and mature grapes that will shine with big fruit and tannins was not easy.  But this is where the strength and resources of a wine group like Girard comes into play.

Girard is one of the wineries owned and operated by Vintage Wine Estates, a winemaking group owned by industry veteran Pat Roney.  Because they have multiple labels and work with so many wineries this group has a lot of vineyard resources to draw from, and this gives them the ability to make very consistent wines year in and year out – even if the weather is less than perfect.  Max Family Cuvee Red is made from various lots sourced throughout Napa Valley, including vineyards in the Napa Valley proper, some mountain fruit as well as vineyards located in outer vineyard regions like Pope Valley (still part of Napa, though).  By sourcing from these locations, where the affect of temperature and other climate conditions is not always the same, the winemaker is able to really practice his craft and put his blending skills to the test.  When I spoke to Glenn about this he said 2011 was definitely going be a year for the winemaker’s “art”.  By which he meant that he was having to be very selective and careful about how and what he was blending, but that the end result should be very similar to what we have come to know and expect from Max Family Cuvee.

When I tasted through the lots I could see the impact of the vintage  but could also see how changing the varietal blends on a  percentage basis could impact the overall feel and taste of the wines.  I found the 2011 varietals to be colorful, flavorful and have the aromatics that I am looking for, some of them did have a bit less mid-palate resonance, which is a trademark of the Max Cuvee.  We discussed this and tasted some other lots of wine, specifically the Syrah and Cabernet components, which will be used to build more mouth-feel and texture.  The Merlot was delicious – full of cocoa and cherry.  The Malbec was deeply colored and brought added richness.  The Cabernet Franc was beautiful and aromatic. The Petite Verdot was tannic and intense, so will be used sparingly for backbone in the wine.  We will not have a final assembly to taste and sign off on until mid-June, and will go to bottle in July, but I expect that the 2011 Max Family Cuvee Red will be as smooth and rich as the past vintages, delivery every bit of complexity and length as we have come to expect.

I think it is important to understand that Max Family Cuvee Red is a “real” wine, not just a contract wine with a label slapped on it sold to anyone.  Since it was first conceived six years ago, there has been input from the Max team on how the wine should be styled and any changes that we feel need to be made to make it better.  By going out and tasting directly with the winemaker, helping to select the exact lots and the exact blend for this wine, I am taking my own experience as well as direct guest feedback to the winemaker and giving him this critical information on how to create each year’s blend.  This is something that not a lot of restaurants do.  We sell a lot of Max Family Cuvee, and I want to make sure it is the best wine for the money.  By working with Glenn and the rest of the team at Girard, I feel confident this is the case – hopefully you agree.

That was the morning.  That afternoon I went to meet the winemaker for our new wine, the Max Family Cuvee White Blend.  Check out the next post to get all the details on this wine, which is just about to arrive for us.

Southern Tier LIVE Pale Ale now at Trumbull Kitchen and Max Burger WH

Bottle conditioned ale is always a great choice as the inclusion of living yeast cells does any number of things to the beer over time – primarily adding complexity to the aromas and flavors.  This beer is called LIVE because those little yeasty guys are added to the bottle just before capping and they continue to make the beer so much more interesting as time goes by.  

This is a relatively new additional to the year-round selections from Southern Tier, a brewery that I have come to enjoy more and more as I taste through their products.  We have added this lovely Pale Ale to the lines at Max Burger West Hartford and Trumbull Kitchen this week, and will keep it rotating in from time to time at our other spots.  It just tastes great, is not heavy or full in style and is about as interesting as it gets.

Southern Tier Brewery operates out of Lakewood, NY, and has been making beers since 2002.  We rotate their beers through our lines on a regular basis.  You can check out their website at this link:  http://www.stbcbeer.com/

Cheers, Brian Mitchell

Interview with Greywacke Winemaker Kevin Judd

Tom Cannavan is an English wine journalist,  blogger, and TV/Radio host.  He recently interviewed Kevin Judd, the owner/winemaker of Greywacke Wines in New Zealand, and I thought I would share a bit of this interview with you.  Kevin Judd was on the scene in the early days (1980s) of modern New Zealand wine-making  and was responsible for helping launch Cloudy Bay wines, which in turn helped to launch New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on to the world scene.  More recently, Kevin has gone on to create Greywacke Wines, which for my money are some of the best values and best tasting New Zealand SBs out there, as well as some of the best SBs from anywhere in the world, period.

We are currently featuring Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc, 2011, at Max Downtown in Hartford and Max Oyster Bar in West Hartford, and as long as availability holds up I plan to run at other locations throughout the summer months.

You can see Tom’s website here: http://www.wine-pages.com/tom-cannavan.html

Enjoy the interview below – Thanks, Brian Mitchell

 

Tom Cannavan, 03/13

In 2011 I met up with Kevin Judd in New Zealand and published a little tasting profile of his exciting new project, Greywacke. Winemaker at Cloudy Bay for over two decades, Kevin had launched Greywacke to huge critical acclaim in 2010 as a ‘négociant’ operation, borrowing winery space and using fruit he buys from long-standing friends and associates, all coming from mature vineyards within the central Wairau Plains and the Southern Valleys of Marlborough.

In February 2013 Kevin was in the UK, travelling around the country with his importer, Liberty Wines, and I was delighted to meet up with him for lunch and a tasting of his current releases. Two years on and it is status quo for Kevin terms of his business model, with a seven-wine range, still made in facilities borrowed from Dog Point Vineyards and sourcing fruit mainly from vineyards owned by Ivan Sutherland, ex-Cloudy Bay colleague and co-owner of Dog Point. But much else has changed: the phenomenal success of Greywacke has taken Kevin a little by surprise, with demand for the wines outstripping supply, and now selling in 25 different world markets.

 I asked Kevin why he took the decision to rent cellar space and buy in fruit. With a wry smile he shrugged and confessed “Because I had no money.” Kevin left Cloudy Bay after the 2009 harvest, an important milestone for him as it marked his 25th harvest as winemaker there. His resignation was amicable, but it is pretty clear Kevin had tired of the corporate life (Cloudy Bay is part of luxury goods empire Luis Vuitton Moët Hennessey). “Now I share a lot of the backroom stuff with Dog Point,” he tells me, “but I don’t have all the bureaucracy and big business structure to deal with – it’s me, my wife Kimberley and one assistant doing the paperwork.” He sums it up in six words: “Greywacke has got to be fun.”

 How long the fun can last if Greywacke’s success continues is a moot point, but I also asked Kevin about the fresh winemaking start he had in 2009, quitting Cloudy Bay after 25 years and immediately launching his own label. “When I left Cloudy Bay I wanted to harvest fruit at the riper end of the spectrum, with lower yields, all the fruit on Scott Henry trellises, and doing things a bit differently.” I asked if level of ripeness was the main difference between Cloudy Bay’s iconic Sauvignon Blanc, and his own, but there are other differences: “I ferment 10% in barrel, and we use wild yeasts.” Even more interesting in some ways is the ‘wild’ cuvée of the Sauvignon Blanc, 100% barrel fermented with wild yeasts. “I guess it is somewhere down the same road as Cloudy Bay’s Te Koko,” Kevin explained, “but not as far down.” I also asked if he had thought of adding some Semillon to the blend (as was the case in early vintages of Cloudy Bay), but he was pretty firm in his response: “If we had the right clones we might, but Semillon is too heavy yielding in Marlborough and can be pretty ugly.”

All of Kevin’s fruit is sourced in Marlborough, with no thoughts of taking fruit from other New Zealand districts (“We’re a Marlborough label,” he says emphatically). That includes his Pinot Noir. Given that this operation started with a blank piece of paper, and he could theoretically buy fruit from anywhere, I wondered why he did not consider sourcing Pinot from Martinborough on the North Island, or from Central Otago further down the South Island, both established Pinot hot-spots with huge reputations. “Now that we’ve got the Southern Valleys coming on stream with Pinot in Marlborough, I think we have the potential to grow it as well as anywhere in the country,” says Kevin. The Southern Valleys is a cool sub-region, with silt, gravel and clay soils and a relatively long ripening season. “I think we’re a lot closer to Martinborough in style than Central Otago,” Kevin adds. “We were slow off the mark with Pinot and we planted in the wrong places, but that has changed.”

Kevin’s Chardonnay has been a runaway success, and has given him the headache of sourcing enough fruit of the right quality. “I even placed ads in the local newspapers,” he tells me, “looking for mature vineyards planted with the Mendoza clone, but there’s just nothing about.” The Mendoza Chardonnay clone is famous for its ‘hen and chicken’ habit of uneven sized berries, but Kevin is 100% convinced of its quality in Marlborough. Like the “Wild” Sauvignon Blanc, it is fermented only with indigenous yeasts, whole bunches being vinified in French oak barrels.

Sauvignon Blanc remains Greywacke’s – and Marlborough’s – undoubted headline act, Kevin’s two bottlings accounting for 70% of production. I quizzed him on whether the image of Marlborough Sauvignon had been irreparably damaged by huge, industrial scale plantings and a spate of big harvests, that led to tumbling prices – the nadir hitting £4.99, even £3.99 on promotion a few years ago. “There are still a few of those ‘get rich quick’ operators about,” he admits, but also he believes the steam has gone out of that: “and it’s finite,” he reminds me, “Marlborough has more or less all been planted.”

Ask the Wine Guy…The varietal Malbec, did it originally come from Argentina and why is it so good?

by Brian Mitchell

In my wine education plan, Malbec is considered to be one of the “other big six” grape varieties, by which I mean that it is not one of the six most common varietals, but is a significant enough player that we can place it among the very top selling and most important grape varietals to learn about.

Malbec’s traditional home is not Argentina, but in fact is France.  In France, many regions – including the Loire and Burgundy wine areas – would have grown Malbec, but it is in the southwest that it is best known; Cahors being the principle area where the grape is known as Côt.

Today, most people would associate Malbec with Argentina, and specifically the Mendoza region, but why?  In the early and mid-1800s, when many immigrants were leaving Europe and settling in the New World, they would take familiar things with them, such as grapes, in order to reproduce “home” as much as possible.  Argentina has a population

that is 90% European in origin and so wine is huge part of the culture.  Malbec was brought to Mendoza along with many grapes, but the climate is especially suited for this grape.  Mendoza is at a high elevation (3000’+), which means lots of sunshine.  Malbec is a relatively thin skinned grape that ripens on the early side.  This means that by the time the harvest rolls around, the Malbec grapes can be a bit over ripe in both sugars and tannins, and thus produce some intense and even hard wines.

In high elevation growing areas of Argentina, the warm, dry days and cold desert nights allow for the growing season to be extended which in turn allows for full (but slow) ripening of the grape’s sugars as well as the grape’s tannins.  The effect is that the wines made in Argentina are often more juicy and softer than the wines made in France.

Another interesting point about the Malbec grapes of Argentina is that much of the genetic material that is used in Argentina is descended from grapes brought to the country in the early and mid-1800s, well before the plague of phylloxera destroyed much of the European vineyard area.  With Argentina’s relative isolation in the late 1800s and first half of the 1900s, this genetic grape material was not diluted or crossed with outside varietals, and so the grapes growing today are more closely related to the grapes originally grown in France than those grown there today.  This purity of the grape DNA could also account for the difference in styles of wines from the two countries.

Malbec vines are perfectly suited to growing and producing the wine styles in Mendoza and other regions of Argentina.  Fruity but not flabby, smooth tannins, not harsh or heavily astringent, dark fruits flavors that go well with cuisine, especially grilled meats, and a smooth overall style.  Plus the prices are relatively low as the land costs and labor costs are favorable in Argentina.  All of these factors make Malbec a great choice to accompany almost any meal.

Look for these great Malbecs being served at MAX locations…

Trumbull Kitchen offers the Tinto Negro Malbec. Which is a great style produced by two longtime Argentine wine industry pros, each of whom spent many years working together at Catena Zapata.  Dark fruits, fleshy mouth-fell, this is a great style that is easy to drink.

Max Burger in Longmeadow offers the Bodini Malbec, which is imported by one of the top firms working with wines from Mendoza, VineConnections.  Super easy style with a soft, round attack followed by smooth black fruits on the finish.  Great for burgers.

For something a bit more upscale, Max Downtown offers the Bramare Malbec from Vina Cobos, owned and produced by Paul Hobbs, the famed California winemaker who has been making wine in Mendoza for over 20 years.  This wine competes with any of the top wines from the region as well as top wines of the world.  A full but balanced style that is elegant, smooth and very deep with flavor.