Sprinkle and Dagger Spritz

A spritz can be an uninspired, sweet, concoction, but in the right hands a good mixologist can craft a refreshing and complex drink, given the endless number of combinations and proportions available. One of the risks of drinking a fine spritz is that consumption of one begs for another etc. This scenario is limited for this spritz because of the transient and limited availability of one of the key components: the 2020 Vermouth by Oregon wine maker Kelley Fox.

The Kelley Fox Vermouth has an interesting history as it originated in the aftermath of the 2020 Oregon forest fires that had many honest wine makers grapple with the question how to deal with the smokey grape harvest of that year. For this vermouth, the Kelley Fox 2020 Maresh Pinot noir was fortified to a brandy by distiller Lynsee Sardell of Big Wild Spirits. Stephanie Sprinkle carefully blended 35 locally sourced plants (including wormwood, rose, elderflower, Angelica, and chamomile) into the mix to make this exceptional vermouth, which, naturally, also shines on its own.

The Kelley Fox Vermouth is an off-dry, bitter, herbal, slightly tannic drink with a long and complex finish. Making this the main player in a spritz makes for a more effervescent, dryer, version of this vermouth.

Enlightenment Wines Dagger Mead is a potent barrel-aged botanical cherry mead from Bushwick, Brooklyn, that includes locally grown black cherries, hand-harvested fir needles, foraged hemlock, yarrow and chamomile. A spritz based on Dagger alone is still quite powerful and edgy, not in the least because it reveals a fascinating rust-like color held up to the light.

The most pleasing result (to my palette) occurred when I mixed the Kelly Fox Vermouth and the Enlightenment Wines Dagger in equal parts as the basis for the Spritz. This combination blended the sweet herbal notes of the vermouth with the more powerful Dagger notes.

Art for Kelley Fox Vermouth (left) and Enlightenment Wines Dagger Mead (right)

The recipe for the Sprinkle and Dagger Spritz is basic:

1/3 sparkling white wine (dry)
1/3 equal parts of Kelley Fox Vermouth and Enlightenment Wines Dagger Mead
1/3 soda water
Optional: a slice of fruit or plant (!)

This recipe can be tweaked to make the drink more alcoholic (decrease the soda water), sweeter (increase the amount of Vermouth), or more aggressively botanical (increase the amount of Dagger).

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). Give 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.