If you gave Team VBC a choice of one beverage to bring to a desert island it would absolutely be beer. However, from time to time we like to spread our wings and venture out into the wider world of alcoholic beverages. We do this because many of those beverages are extremely tasty, and also because they broaden our palates and give us ideas for future brewing experiments. We try to go local and/or small when choosing wine or liquor. In terms of wine, we often sample products from The Williamsburg Winery here in Williamsburg, Veritas Vineyard & Winery in Afton, VA, and Barboursville Vineyards outside of Charlottesville. When we pour a liquor it's generally a whiskey (either in a Manhattan or straight with rocks on the side) from great small distilleries like Copper Fox in Sperryville (and soon in Williamsburg!) or Corsair in Nashville, Tennessee (try the Triple Smoke if you ever see it on a menu or a store shelf).
As most beer craft beer aficionados are aware, partnerships between breweries and wineries/distilleries have produced wonderful products. Aging beer in used barrels opens up a plethora of new flavors and is something that we plan to explore once The Virginia Beer Company is up and running. We will do our best to use local barrels as much as possible, but sometimes we will be forced to look elsewhere due to supply issues. We might also use barrels from wineries or distilleries that hold special meaning for us. One of those places is Fattoria della Talosa, a winery that my wife and I visited during our recent Italian adventure.
During our time in Siena we took a day trip to the small but famous town of Montepulciano. Famous mostly for its wine, but also (as we learned) for being a filming location for the Twilight movies. Fattoria della Talosa owns 80 acres of vineyards in the hills surrounding the town, as well as a barrel-aging cellar in the center of Montepulciano. We walked in through the tasting room and our guide led us down the stairs (almost 60 in total!) and into the historic 16th century Talosa cellars. The temperature fell rapidly as we descended (the natural temperature stays around 55 degrees) and the wonderful smell of oak and aging wine began to permeate the air. The cellars contain vessels of many different shapes and sizes, ranging from 55 gallon barrels to 3,000 gallon foeders. The experience of walking around a dimly-lit 500 year old cellar, surrounded by walls full of fossilized shells, was pretty incredible.
After completing the trek back up the stairs we sat in the tasting room to sample the finished products. Wines from Montepulciano are classified based on the percentage of Sangiovese grapes included in the blend, as well as the length and method of aging. The first wine we tasted, Talosa's Rosso di Montepulciano is 85% Sangiovese and spends at least eight months aging in oak barrels. The second wine we tasted, their Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, is 90% Sangiovese and is aged in oak barrels for at least two years. The third and final wine was the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva, which is 100% Sangiovese and is aged in oak barrels for at least three years. Tasting the three wines side-by-side was eye opening. Everyone in the group was singing the praises of the Rosso until we sampled the Vino Nobile. The affection for the Vino Nobile quickly dissipated once the Riserva was poured. The dark fruit flavors of the full-bodied Riserva were so much more refined and balanced than in the standard Vino Nobile. While the percentage of Sangiovese grapes is slightly different across the three wines, the real difference clearly comes from the amount of time each wine spends maturing in oak.
Hopefully we will one day be able to partner with Fattoria della Talosa - we'd love to take a few barrels off of their hands! We can already imagine the delicious flavors those barrels could add to a Belgian-style Saison or a Flanders Oud Bruin. Thanks to the folks at Talosa, especially Cristian, for the wonderful hospitality!