Back in the Winners’ Circle: Matthews’ Homebrew Cider

By Christopher Matthews

I made quite a splash with my (hard) cider at the recent 2019 Hudson Valley Homebrew Competition (HVHC). Not only did I take First and Third Place in the “Standard Cider” category, respectively, but also Best in Show – Cider, and 2nd Best in Show (Non-Beer).


The winning hardware

My big “Best in Show” winner was part of my “Hudson Valley Antiques” series (HVA #1, in this case), which focuses on heirloom apple varieties grown in the Hudson Valley that excel in cider production. Without disclosing exact (proprietary!) proportions, HVA#1 was composed of Black Twig, Empire, Baldwin and Golden Russet apples. My other prize winner – “Golden Empire” – continues my previous success with the blending of Empire (often my own fruit) and Golden Russet apples.


The winning HVA#1, pre-fermentation

What made this 2019 triumph all the sweeter was my two-year absence from the winners’ circle, and the learning and knowledge gained from that experience. Continue reading

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A Cheverny for All Seasons: Domaine du Salvard

By Christopher Matthews

A lingering late-winter cold spell here in the northeast US probably has most folks still jonesing for substantial comfort food dishes, paired with big, hearty reds to wash them down. This is a natural — and laudable — reflex.

But as time goes on, I find myself increasingly attracted to more aromatic, medium-to-light bodied red wines with zesty acidity, lower alcohol levels, supple tannins and bright, clear fruit – regardless of season. Elegance over brawn. And the fact is, these types of wine, like the Cab Franc-based reds of the Loire Valley (Chinon, Bourgueil, Samur-Champigny) and the Gamay wines of the Beaujolais Crus (e.g. Morgon, Fleurie, Julienas, etc.), also stand up well to, and even excel with, robust, wintery fare.

Recently, I had a stellar example of such a wine: the Domaine du Salvard 2017 Cheverny Rouge.

Chev 1

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Bordeaux 2016: A Winning Vintage of Elegant, Energetic Wines

By Christopher Matthews

The temperature outside the annual Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) tasting held at Cipriani 42nd Street in Manhattan on 21 January was in single digits, but the reception by the industry throng inside the cavernous space for Bordeaux’s 2016 vintage was warm, bordering on chaud.


Grand Crus de Bordeaux tasting, Manhattan-style

Deservedly so.

Many Bordelaise vintners have called 2016 a “miracle vintage”, one that started out as a rainy washout in the first half, but then finished almost completely dry and sunny throughout July, August and September (save for a much-needed rain storm on 13 September), with warm (not hot) days and cool nights. The overall result, especially for the reds: elegant, phenolically ripe wines brimming with gorgeous red-ish fruit, silky tannins, great energy and freshness. While these wines will age well in the cellar, they offer pleasure in relative youth as well, the best of both worlds. And based on the sterling quality of the Grand Crus, 2016 should be an excellent vintage for less expensive, ready-to-drink appellations in Bordeaux (e.g. AOC Bordeaux, Cotes de Bordeaux, etc.) in the $12-$20 range.  Continue reading

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Wine Media Guild Explores Portugal

By Christopher Matthews

During its long history, especially during the Age of Discovery, Portugal has been known as a nation of explorers, something that allowed the (then) small kingdom to punch far above its weight for centuries as a colonial power.

Times have changed, and the tables have turned, as Portugal itself, sans colonies and King, has become a hot tourist destination and a country to explore, not least for its vibrant and rapidly evolving wine sector, a big success story of the last few decades, but one the US market should know more about.WMG Logo


This was the point of departure for the Wine Media Guild’s (WMG) most recent tasting/lunch — “Exploring the Wines of Portugal” — hosted by WMG Member David Ransom, and featuring Ivan Escalante, a sales rep for Iberian wines for the distributor Wine in Motion USA, at the Restaurant at La Nacional (The Spanish Benevolent Society).

It was an instructive, eye-opening tasting of quality, value…and lesser known, indigenous grape varieties. Continue reading

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NY Craft Ciders Rock the Lower East Side

By Christopher Matthews

November 2-11, 2018, was Cider Week in New York City, a festival of multiple cider events and tastings in bars and venues across the Big Apple, organized by the New York Cider Association. The aim: “to cultivate appreciation of New York’s  orchard-based cider” by showcasing its exceptional quality, diversity and food-friendliness.

If the Lower East Cider Fest (on November 8) in Manhattan was any indication, a major Cider Week tasting of over 30 (mainly) New York State cideries that took place in the historic Essex Street Market, then it was truly mission accomplished.

It was a crowded, youthful scene in the Essex Market, one that should give the craft (hard) cider segment of the industry much optimism. As it is, craft cider continues to grow at a buoyant 35% clip annually, one of the hottest US beverage categories.


Lower East Cider Fest @ Essex St. Market

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Seriously Delicious: Foggy Ridge’s “Serious Cider”

By Christopher Matthews 

It’s cider season in the Hudson Valley, and I have lately been gathering the materials – and fruit – to make my own (now) annual production. This process has taken me several times to Half Time Beverage in Poughkeepsie which, in addition to being a craft beer and cider store par excellence, is also a good spot for home brewing supplies.

While purchasing some essential items like pectic enzyme and yeasts for my upcoming cider batches, I wandered over to Half Time’s craft cider selection, and was drawn immediately to one of my favorite producers anywhereFoggy Ridge, from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

I first tasted some of Foggy Ridge’s (FR) ciders three years ago at a special cider tasting of the Wine Media Guild, and I was greatly impressed. In particular, I remembered that FR’s “Serious Cider” was my favorite, and I spotted it on Half Time’s shelf.


Seriously good

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2018 Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition: Benmarl Sweeps Top Awards

By Christopher Matthews

One year ago, Benmarl Winery shared the coveted Winery of the Year award (with Tousey Winery) at the 2017 Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition (HVWSC).


At the 2018 HV competition, held this past Saturday in Rhinebeck, NY, part of the weekend-long 2018 Hudson Valley Wine & Food Fest, Benmarl’s stellar wines made sure there was no “co-” in the Winery of the Year award this year. And it’s easy to see why: not only did Benmarl win Best in Show for its stunningly good, Champagne-like 2012 Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine (which also took Best Sparkling), but it also took Best Overall Hudson Valley Wine (made with Hudson Valley fruit) for its unctuous 2017 “Sweet Sarah” dessert wine (75% Vidal, 25% Traminette), which was also Best Dessert Wine. Add to the list a Double Gold for its 2016 Proprietor’s Reserve Red (vinifera) blend, and its Gold medal-winning 2017 Seyval Blanc (from my panel), and you have a richly deserved result for Benmarl. Impressive.


Benmarl’s busy booth at the 2018 HV Wine & Food Fest

Still, it was far from a one winery show. Continue reading

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