Burgundy Premier Cru Sangria

You open a Burgundy Premier Cru expecting a light-on-its-feet, delicate, Pinot Noir. Instead, your wine is an over-extracted, oaked abomination instead. What is a person to do? Keep drinking it without enjoying it (and lament the waste of money), or pour it down the sink and open something decent instead. Both courses of action are not very attractive.

A good solution is to salvage the wine by making a sangria out of it. The fruit and soda water dilute the oppressive nature of the wine and you end up with something joyful instead. A good sangria takes a little time so you still need a replacement for the day. But you can at least pat yourself on the back for having salvaged the situation by partly turning wine back into water.

Apples and oranges are obvious ingredients and I added some peach as well. Sweeteners and brandy are optional (I opted to omit them). Given the mixture some time to take off the harsh notes of the original wine and serve. To remind yourself what this wine could have been, serve in a Zalto Denk’Art glass with ice and a metal straw.

Cantillon Grand Cru Bruocsella Brut

I have always been partial to Cantillon’s Grand Cru Bruocsella, an unblended 3-yeard old lambic. Perusing the bottle list at Moeder Lambic Fontaines on an October evening in 2021, my eye caught a bottle of Grand Cru Bruocsella Brut. At a time where an endless number of lambic variations (fruits, barrels, non-traditional blends etc.) compete for the spotlight, having a carbonated version of this (mostly) still beer seemed intriguing to me. It would reconcile the mellower, aged, character of an old unblended lambic with the effervescence of a Geuze.

The label shows a variation of the regular Grand Cru Bruocsella label, emphasizing a different drawing of the Town Hall of the Grand Place against a dark background. This beer was brewed in 2015 and bottled in 2019. Two barrels of old lambic were blended and refermented in the bottle to produce it, although it is not clear how this fermentation in the bottle was achieved given the old nature of the lambics involved.

That this is not your regular Bruocsella became instantly clear when it poured with a lot of foam despite a doing a gentle pour. The beer is orange gold, translucent, with some lacing that gradually disappears from the glass. Aromas of wood, brett, and oranges. Grand Cru Bruocsella is tart with bitter grapefruit notes, and quite astringent – noticeable barrel notes. Its finish is on the shorter end of the spectrum, with a tannic, bitter aftertaste. Not sure if this is an example of “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” Not the most complex Cantillon but a very interesting spin on a classic.

Field Recordings Dry Hop Pet Nat

It is hard to to think of a better name for a natural winery than “Field Recordings” as it conjures images of both 20th century visionary avant-garde music making as wine making as an expression of terroir.

Natural wine making is often characterized as a style in which “nothing is added and nothing is taken away.” This definition might strike some as to restrictive as it would not permit a winemaker to implement even the most minimal modifications to a wine that prevents it from turning from an elegant expression of terroir into a one-dimensional brett bomb (not uncommon), or using subtle filtration to achieve a certain visual appearance of a wine. What such a strict definition would definitely would preclude is to add herbs to a wine to create an innovative product.

Adding hops to a wine, or more precise, dry-hopping a fermented wine, is the kind of wild card move that definitely constitutes “adding something” to a wine but also embodies the adventurous spirit of many (young) natural winemakers who have little reservations about straddling the boundaries between wine and beer culture.

Adding herbs, spices, or fruits to a (finished) wine is certainly not new but the practice is mostly associated with cocktail making or seasonal (mulled) wines. Blending wine into a (spontaneously fermented) beer, however, is now quite common and breweries like Cantillion have pioneered this practice in Belgium, followed by Wild Ale makers in the US such as Upright Brewing. Depending on the ratio between the two, and whether co-fermentation was pursued, the end results can be a beer that tastes like wine or a wine that tastes like beer.

The Field Recordings Dry Hop Pet Nat wine is definitely a wine that smells and tastes a little bit more like a beer due to the addition of hops. The choice to do this with a pétnat wine further elevates the beer connotation because of its funky and carbonated character. So how does it all come together?

The Dry Hop Pet Nat pours a hazy, light yellow. A tangy, yeasty, aroma with some fruit, sweetness, and mild wet hops note. Medium carbonation and medium mouthfeel. Taste is quite clean with orange and lime notes, with a lingering bitter, “hoppy” finish. Some sediment was left after completion of the bottle.

A hopped pétnat could be a good idea in theory but a disaster in practice, but the result here is actually quite likable and subtle. This opens the door to a plethora of experiments as there are many types of hops and dry hopping regimes. Cantillon has resoundingly demonstrated that spontaneously fermented beers and (dry) hopping can be a beautiful combination and there is a place for adding hops to (sparkling) wines as well.

I’d personally favor other herbs to be the dominant player in such efforts but this might be just a matter of time. This is a good wine, not a great wine, but I suspect that great wines can be achieved through the addition of herbs.

Savagnin Amphore

The first time I encountered the unique wines of the Jura region was when reading Jean-Xavier Guinard’s “Lambic” book for review on this website. Naturally, after reading about Vin Jaune I had to get my hands on a bottle, which was somewhat challenging because US regulations did not permit the sale of the classic 60 ml Vin Jaune “clavelin.” Fortunately, some courageous wine sellers just ignored these edicts and maintained a small collection of Vin Jaune in their store anyway. It is too long ago now to remember my first encounter with Vin Jaune (did I have it with Comte cheese and/or walnuts?) but what I do remember well is visiting the Jura region in 2010, staying in Château-Chalon, and visiting the Stéphane Tissot tasting room in Arbois.

Eglise Saint-Pierre de Chateau-Chalon

The wines of the Jura have held an enduring interest to me. I was pleasantly surprised to read about Cantillon’s Vin Jaune barrel aged beer experiments (after all, like lambic, Vin Jaune wines also generate a pellicle to protect the wine from the surrounding environment). I attended a Jura tasting with Jean-Francois Bourdy at E&R wines in 2017, which featured a 1976 Chateau Chalon and 1915 (!) Rouge (the oldest wine I have ever tasted), and introduced me to Bourdy’s Côtes du Jura Savagnin, my favorite, despite it being a Vin Jaune “reject.” I think it was at this tasting that I also procured a bottle of Benedicte & Stephane Tissot ‘s 2012 Savagnin Amphore, which I did not have an opportunity to taste until early 2020. I prepared myself for this tasting by reading Wink Lorch’s excellent book on Jura Wine.

Benedicte & Stephane Tissot are natural wine makers so it is not much of a surprise to see skin contact white wines, or experiments with amphorae fermentation, making an appearance. However, such methods were, to my knowledge, quite the departure from Jura traditions but were pioneered by the Tissots. Some of their reds are also available in amphore releases. My understanding is that this wine was macerated on the skins for 6 months in amphorae, used endogenous yeast, and was bottled without sulphur.

I cannot say that I am sufficiently familiar with the savignin grape to fully appreciate how it expresses itself through skin maceration, but I have tried a lot of other orange wines that I used as a benchmark when tasting this.

Visually, Savagnin Amphore pours like a cognac with a clear rusty amber. There is a slight sediment in the bottom of the glass. The aroma is somewhat closed initially but starts to give notes of malt, leather, (dried) lemon, pickled fruits and ripe apple as it warms and opens up. This is light-bodied and a very dry wine. Naturally, after such a prolonged period of skin contact tannins are noticeable. Another feature that stands out to me is how smooth it is. The finish is slightly bitter and short. Its profile also reminds me of a straight lambic, which bring this review full circle because it was Guinard’s book on lambic that drew my attention to the Jura wines in the first place. Clearly, this is not a traditional Jura wine but an ancient interpretation of a traditional Jura grape.

Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval

Visit to the Orval Abbey, old Orval Abbey ruins, and the brewing museum. The last photo shows the original 1932 Orval glass before it changed to its canonical shape associated with this beer.

Toer de Geuze 2019

After missing two installments of Toer de Geuze I was excited to attend this year’s event. To say that a lot has changed since I attended my first Toer de Geuze in 2009 is an understatement. Toer de Geuze 2019 is a well-organized two-day event now with attendees from all over the world. The participating breweries are no longer struggling to survive but are expanding their production (or even locations), launching new products, and collect wine-style prices for special (international) releases. Some things don’t change, however, and Cantillon and Girardin remain absent from the line-up. The biggest surprise for me was that some of the most interesting brews I sampled were from breweries and blenders that previously mostly dabbled in non-exceptional geuzes or sweetened faux lambics.

As in prior years, we gathered in front of the Halle Train Station for our bus of choice. Despite the event comprising two days it is challenging to attend all your favored breweries and blenders and some tough decisions had to be made. This year we omitted Drie Fonteinen and De Cam, although we had a lunch at the latter location the day prior to the event. The tour guides in our bus was an excellent Flemish speaker and mastered English sufficiently enough to articulate some choice words for those who fail to return in time to the bus to visit the next destination.

We arrived at our first destination, Timmermans, during a bout of rather heavy rain. Fortunately, the weather significantly improved throughout the duration of the event. The collection of old equipment, beer labels, and posters at Timmermans was a sight to behold for lambic historians.

My expectations for Lindemans were modest as even their “traditional” lambics always seemed a rather bland affair to me. I had been intrigued with their botanical lambics releases, though, and was surprised how potent and fresh the SpontanBasil smelled and tasted, reinforcing my impression that the green notes in these lambics are fragile and fading.

We were also able to blend and bottle our own geuze, which permits designing a geuze with a higher proportion of old lambic.

Boon remains a great destination for a longer stop and their sleek black “Vat X” bottles intrigue and beg for side-by-side comparison. Hanssens remains as rustic as ever and the to-go-to destination for lambic lovers who like a little acetic acid in their lambic.

I had never been to visitor center De Lambiek in Beersel and their great selection of regional lambics for sale presented a good opportunity to start the second day by comparing fruit lambics and purchasing other bottles without dealing with the longer lines at other locations.

I have always respected the Oud Beersel history and blending activities but their bottled lambics always seemed somewhat basic to me. Oud Beersel has ventured on some serious experimentation now and their offerings included such gems as rose- and tea-infused lambics (Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong), geuzes aged in wine barrels, and blending 3-year old lambics to create a more mature geuze. This trend towards “deeper” and “greener” lambics is totally to my liking.

If you want to explore the rich history and traditions of lambic at a measured pace, and enjoy these drinks in splendid isolation, Toer de Geuze is no longer a good vehicle for this but there is so much going on during the event that attendance remains a must. Maybe next time we skip the buses and opt for a do-it-yourself itinerary.

Botanical Lambics

Like many other lambic connoisseurs, my first acquaintance with lambic was through a fruit lambic of dubious merit (retrospectively). But it was  Monk’s Cafe’s Flemish’s Sour Ale in 2007 that revealed the potential of a true sour beer and prompted me to research related beers and, of course, the lambics from Belgium such as Cantillon.

Traditional fruit lambics are great but something of a black art. Fruit lambics do not age well, they can turn out one-dimensionally sour, and acitic acid can show up where it should not. As a general rule, I have become more partial to (aged) unblended lambic and gueuze. When it comes to adding things to the lambic I am more intrigued by adding herbs and vegetables. I think my first true experience was Cantillon’s Zwanze 2008, a rhubarb beer. The idea of a botanical lambic evokes the image of some kind of medieval, mind-altering concoction – as ancient as time. Adding herbs and spices to wild ales and lambics has become a lot more common since then but I was still determined to taste all the Lindemans “botanical lambic” releases after having reviewed their SpontanBasil bottling.

Lindemans’s BlossomGueuze, a “2 to 3 year old lambic aged in wood, blended with 12 month old lambic and elderflower” is the second release in their botanical lambic series. Elderflower is no a stranger to lambics as it was used by Cantillon for their Zwanze 2009 experiment, which was so well received that this elderflower lambic was revived as Cantillon Mamouche, and became a part of their regular line-up. When I still dabbled with wild beer homebrewing myself I made an elderflower sour once by adding a lot of elderflower during secondary fermentation. This produced such strong elderflower notes that I have become quite adapt in recognizing its aroma in beers.

BlossomGueuze pours is a clear amber-colored beer. So clear that some might identify it as a different beer style. It has a soft aroma of elderflower (a lot more subtle than my homebrew!), stone fruit, and oak.  My tasting notes read green apple, elderflower, bitter lemon, and grass. This is a very dry beer and there is a lingering bitter aftertaste with a little bit of tannin.  Quite effervescent and refreshing.

The GingerGueuze is blend of 2 to 3 year old lambics and 1 year old lambic to which ginger was added. Strinctly speaking, the “ginger” used in this beer is galangal, a closely related spice in the rhizome family. Galangal is also called “Thai Ginger” and is somewhat different from the ginger that most people know. I cannot claim to recognize all the subtleties involved here but I have consumed enough ginger tea and ginger kombucha to recognize the basic flavor well.

After sampling all the Lindemans botanical lambics it seems to me that their base beer for the botanicals series is the same (clear, amber, slightly tannic, effervescent)  which makes it a little easier to focus on the added herbs. There is a distinct ginger aroma but not too pungent. In fact, there is a little sweetness to the nose. Quite mild and pleasant. There is definitely ginger in the taste and I would say that it is more pronounced than the basil and elderflower in their other botanical lambics.  But is not too hot or sharp which would have overwhelmed the other lambic qualities. Other things I pick up are gin & tonic, bitter orange, and the slightly bitter note that seems to be present in all the base beers of this series. The GingerGueuze has a thinner mouthfeel in my experience. What positively set it apart from the other two is that the added ginger carried over in a longer finish. This beer, or any of their botanicals, did not strike me as particularly complex or deep (“geuze plus ginger” is an apt characterization) but  I am not sure whether one can ask for a lot more for experimental brews such as this.

One can only hope that Lindemans continues its series of botanical lambics. Fortunately, the “style” as such is not dependent on this project. Other lambic brewers (Cantillon in particular) have established a sound track record for brewing with herbs, flowers, spices etc. In the United States, adding botanicals to Wild Ales is quite common and the practice is routinely used at breweries such as De Garde and Upright. At some point this style will persist long enough to converge on issues such as optimal concentrations, exposure time, botanical combinations, and aging potential.

As I write this, my favorite “green sour” style remains a juniper-forward wild ale aged in gin barrels. Some years ago I even played with the idea of starting my own botanical (nano) brewery to focus on archaic spontaneously fermented gruits. I think it is fair to say that the vision behind this idea has been independently recognized by others and has culminated in some rather interesting experiments coming to the market.

Going Gris and Rouge

As I have increasingly become a predominantly wine drinker, I find co-fermenting grapes with a beer, or even blending wine with a sour to be quite tempting.  Lambic brewery, Cantillon, has been adding grapes to two of its seasonal brews for years and one of them, Vigneronne, was a favorite of mine when their products were more readily available in Portland.

Sour beers and grapes can be joined to create a unique beer in a variety of ways, including co-fermenting the grapes with the beer, adding grape juice to the fermenting beer, or adding a portion of finished wine to  a completed brew.

My favorite Portland brewery, Upright, has been releasing a number of grape-incorporating bottles recently, and I purchased two of those to taste.

The 2017 Oregon Native uses estate pinot noir grapes from the Patton Valley Vineyards to co-ferment in Upright barrels. Intriguingly, the beer was fermented with yeast indigenous to the Patton Valley orchard, which introduces a natural wine touch to this creation. I poured the beer in a Cantillon glass and it boasted a translucent, Burgundy red color in the light. With a very pleasant aroma and what I would be inclined to call a classic Upright nose at this point, it had mild brettanomyces character and oak. My bottle was quite tart by Upright standards, with notes of lemon, cassis,  slight bitterness, and some residual sweetness accompanied by light tannins from the oak and grapes, consistent with the use of the leaner pinot noir.  It was a dry (but not bone-dry) beer with medium carbonation ditton on the mouthfeel.

Going Gris takes another step on the road of blending the philosophies of natural wine making and wild ales. This collaboration between Upright and natural wine experimenters Minimus Wines was made for the 10th anniversary of Bailey’s Taproom and features orchard yeast, a blend of beers (including one with rose petal), and the rare savagnin rose grape matured in an acacia wood cask. The beer looked extraordinarily clear and Pilsner-like, with a rapidly declining head. I observed spice and grain on the nose with a whiff of brett. It was tart, vinous, and herbal, with a pronounced bitter-lemon like note, and quite carbonated. The light mouthfeel gave this elegant and very drinkable beer a sophisticated and cerebral touch.

I had high hopes for these two beers and was not disappointed. Both brews were excellent but Going Gris was particularly fascinating. An obvious question is whether these grape / sour blends are more than the sum of their parts. I think it depends. I had another wine / sour blend by the glass at Upright which did taste more or less like beer blended with wine, mutually diluting each other’s likable characteristics. Other attempts, such as the Cantillon brews and the Upright bottles reviewed here do something more and open a world that cannot be fully captured with wine or beer alone.  As this beer style is a subset of an already smaller craft style it will probably still take a considerable amount of time to understand the behavior and outcomes of using different kinds of grapes, fermentation choices, and aging regimes to identify the most attractive combinations and styles. These experimental brews do indicate this will be a fruitful journey.