A Quick Look at Carmel Valley Wine Country

Fermented Travel Carmel Valley, California
by Kerry Winslow of grapelive.com

RiverBeach
While on vacation, visiting my hometown Carmel Valley, I decided to visit some old friends and see a couple of new faces, and really see how the region as a wine destination has evolved in the last few years. This quick look has given me hope that things are on the rise, especially in the Carmel Valley Village which has now more than 12 tasting rooms and has really embraced the local wineries in a way that was not the case only a few years ago. While Carmel itself has even joined in adding half a dozen wine tasting rooms as well, so the area is finally able to show it’s wine community in a positive way and gives even more hope for the future of this underrated wine country. Carmel Valley wines have had a tough road gaining respect, but there seems to be a new excitement here and the wines have never been better.

The longtime wineries, Heller Estate (formerly Durney) Talbott, Georis and Galante deserve lots of credit for championing the area and all seem to be investing in the future here with new vineyard plantings, new wines and new tasting facilities making recent debuts in Carmel Valley Village. Then there is a new guys that have raised the bar here with Parsonage leading the way, with Joyce, Chesbro, Chock Rock, Dawn’s Dream, Holman Ranch Vineyards and Silvestri making an interesting tapestry of styles and personalities.

Here are a few I tasted, and there will be lot more to follow

2011PasonageCS2011 Parsonage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Carmel Valley.
The latest Cabernet from Parsonage is classic Carmel Valley, a bit restrained and hinting at cool climate Bordeaux like character with a touch of green, but very likable and pretty. The Medoc reference is to give you an idea of style for this vintage only, and while not typical of this winery it is in keeping with the regions history, and I should think this wine will age well and gain in depth and complexity, this wine is full of grace, interest and vibrancy. The nose has notes of acacia, tobacco leaf, pepper and black fruits before leading to a medium weight palate of plum, currant, cherry and blackberry fruits, pencil lead, sage, cedar and whiff of bell pepper not unlike Leoville Poyfrerre and a bit like Cabernet Franc, this is a very nice wine from start to finish. This is a classy, mature minded Claret style Cabernet that is a good reflection of the vintage and place, well done.
($42 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2009PasonageBixby2009 Parsonage, Petit Verdot, Bixby Reserve, Estate, Carmel Valley.
This is a bold and sexy wine that delivers ripe flavors and full bodied richness from start to finish, without question a massively appealing red that coats the mouth and gives real hedonistic pleasure throughout with loads of blueberry, creme de cassis, red pepper and lavender oil. This exotic Petit Verdot is a thrill ride on the palate and the aftertaste stays for over a minute, this unique wine is very impressive and should drink well for another decade. I recently had the pleasure to taste the 2003 and it was still young, vibrant and could easily go another 10 years, and this 2009 is even more polished and focused, Parsonage can be very proud of this one. I’ve followed Parsonage since they started, and I must say they have really progressed well and make some of the best wines in the region, this is a winery to check out if you visit Carmel Valley.
($80 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2012ChesbroRose2012 Chesbro, Rose, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
Mark Chesbro makes a nice selection of value priced wines from his vines in Arroyo Seco and his unique Rose is a tasty treat. I visited his tasting room in Carmel Valley Village and tasted this and his Vermentino, perfect wines for summer drinking. The Rose is made from Grenache, Albarino and Viognier! A very interesting combination of grapes, flavors and aromas that shows watermelon, citrus, strawberry, tart cherry and wild honeysuckle. This dry Rose is easy to love and very entertaining with mineral, acidity and zesty tanginess, a very solid effort.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

 

2011DawnsSB2011 Dawn’s Dream, Sauvignon Blanc, Carmel Valley.
With good mouth feel, fresh acidity and length this Sauvignon Blanc shows intriguing terroir and complexity. The grapes come from Galante’s Ranch, which has a unique clone of Sauvignon Blanc that may have originally come from Chateau D’Yquem by way of Wente! No matter the origins the vines produce very unique fruit and Dawn’s Dream highlights the distinct character to perfection. The nose is slightly floral and the density is impressive while still feeling light and refreshing with lemon/lime, kiwi, passion fruit and grapefruit layers along with notes of spiced pear, peach and gooseberry. A touch of neutral oak helps soften the vivid acidity and allows the wine to feel round and supple on the finish without giving any wood influence, this is a classy white that deserves some attention.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2011DawnsPNAlyssa2011 Dawn’s Dream, Pinot Noir, Alyssa, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Dawn Galante wanted to make wine that reflected her own personality and that were more transparent in style, in contrast to her husband’s Galante wines, and she has achieved her dream, sorry for the pun, but hard to resist, and her wine are well crafted and more delicate in style. The 2011 Dawn’s Dream Alyssa Pinot from the Santa Lucia Highlands is a most worthy effort with good fruit, silky texture and very pleasing showing plum and raspberry along with a solid core of cherry fruit plus nice soft wood notes, mineral and spice. Dawn’s wine offer a rare value in Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot and have been a huge hit with visitors to her well appointed tasting room in the beautiful Carmel Valley Village and she has a very popular wine club that is growing fast, so if you are in the area you should check it out.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

 

Wine of the Day August 8, 2013

2012OVWCPinot2012 Old Vine Wine Co. Pinot Noir, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Old Vine Wine Company is the second label of Alfaro Vineyards and is focused on value wine made from great old sites other than the Alfaro estate. Richard Alfaro has now added Trout Gulch to his stable, farming and crafting wines from this vineyard that has great exposure and is influenced by the cool waters of the Monterey Bay that helps the old Chardonnay and Pinot Noir planted here. The 2012 Old Vine Wine Co. Pinot Noir is rich, lush and forward with creamy cherry, raspberry, plum and fig fruit plus baking spices, tea notes and cola bean. There is plenty of juicy acidity, soft tannins and a long silky finish, this is a very nice effort and easy to love that is tasty in it’s youth.
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Wine of the Day August 7, 2013

2010SilvestriSyrah2010 Silvestri, Syrah, Estate, Carmel Valley.
You may know of Alan Silvestri, he is one of America’s top composers and conductors, and he’s most famous for his movie scores and music, he has been awarded many times both by the Academy & Grammy Awards, but you may not know he is a vintner and has been producing some fine wines from his estate in beautiful Carmel Valley. I remember many years ago, meeting Alan and him telling me he was inspired to grown grapes and make wine by his experience with Northern Rhone Syrah, especially Hermitage, Cote-Rotie and Cornas if I remember correctly, so he planted Syrah in Carmel Valley, and he’s been successful in producing a very good Syrah and now has branched out into Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. After not trying his wines, which have been crafted by Mark Chesbro, a local winemaker, I thought I’d check in on them while visiting my home town of Carmel Valley. I have since learned, Silvestri has hired Parsonage winemaker and vineyard manager Frank Melicia, who is now making some of Carmel Valley’s top wines. The 2010 Silvestri Syrah is a peppery dark wine with good varietal character, density and energy showing blueberry, raspberry, plum and kirsch up front with a hint of violets, lavender and game, plus fresh cracked pepper. This is a solid and enjoyable effort, very fairly priced and easy to like. It may gain a bit with another year or so in the cellar, but I would say drink away now, best from 2014-2018.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Wine of the Day August 6, 2013

2010AFVSchultze2010 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Schultze Family Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
This lush and silky Pinot from Richard Alfaro comes from his friend’s fruit, Judy and Jim Schultze’s vines which back up to the redwoods and look down to the sea, they also make their own wine under the Windy Oaks Estate label, Richard’s version is fuller on the palate and a tad riper in profile, more in line with his single vineyard wines. The 2010 Alfaro Schultze Pinot starts with raspberry, wilted roses, mocha and tea spice leading to a round palate of creamy cherry, violets, plum and truffle, it finishes long and juicy with good grace and acidity. At 14.2% alcohol it is not a bruiser, but is does feel lavish and dense in the mouth, making for a very hedonistic experience and a very pleasing wine. I think the best is yet to come here, give it a few more years and it might just merit a higher score, drink 2015-2019.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

 

Avail at www.alfarowine.com

Wine of the Day August 6, 2013

2009SkyZin2009 Sky, Zinfandel, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley.
This small estate made Zin from the upper reaches of Mount Veeder is a dark and dreamy wine of character and interest, not to be missed by Zin fans, and for those that want a unique and stylish California red. This vintage brings excitement and polished elements that have been missing in recent years to this “Cult” Zin producer and I was very much impressed with the level of refinement and class that is on display here, this is one of of the best yet from this address at the top of the mountain. Big blackberry, boysenberry, raspberry and plum fruit, briar, bramble and cinnamon stick spice plus a hint of dried currants lead the way along with soft cedar and peppercorns adding elements to the whole. Ripe sweet tannins, dried flowers and figs come through as well, and there is enough acidity to push the flavors forward and give live to this wine, drink now and for the next 3-5 years while the fruit is at it’s freshest.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

kerry winslow

KWBeat10Welcome to my website, I am a wine professional in California that loves to travel and seen new places and taste new things, so created a couple of websites and blogs based on my discoveries, my main site is www.grapelive.com focusing totally on my wine life and this site, www.fermentedtravel.com which has a bit of everything I do wrapped into one. Thanks for visiting and I hope to post some noteworthy finds from my travels. Cheers,

Kerry Winslow, Fermented Traveler

 

Hamburg, Germany

Fermented Travel: Hamburg, Germany
By Kerry Winslow

FTHamburgHamburg is on the Elbe River and is one of Europe’s largest ports, but it is also a great city to visit and go just this side of wild in. The Beatles made their name here in the smoky cellar bars in the St. Pauli district near the famed Reeperbahn, Germany’s and maybe Europe’s big Red-Light area. The city has a wonderful city center that is easy to walk and beautiful canals and a central lake, the Binnenalster, with many sights to see a main shopping street, the Poststrasse, and great museums and art galleries, like the famed Kunsthalle that has Caspar David Friedrich’s amazing “The Polar Sea” (1823-4).  This city has many charms and depth, and is mostly overlooked as a tourist attraction, that is a mistake I can assure you as Hamburg has everything for everyone to enjoy. The city is home to fashion, millionaires, historic churches, seedy bars, wonderful restaurants, lovely canals that remind you of some sort of German Venice, pretty parks, good soccer (football) teams, a Neo-Renaissance City Hall, and much more. The central square, The Rathausmarkt is a great place to start your tour from and is an easy meeting place near the main rail station, Bahnhof, and both the U-Bahn and S-Bahn stops. I came by train and never needed a car or even a taxi during my time here, so easy and safe was the city to walk.

Hamburg
Hamburg’s Hanseatic past runs deep and though Lubeck still has it’s old town intact, Hamburg has just a few streets that reflect this historic past, because in 1842 the city suffered an almost total loss of it’s wood buildings in a fire, and then was devastated again in July of 1943 when the allies firebombed the city to rumble, and at least 55,000 people died, as Hamburg was a major target during WWII. This Hansa city is known for its merchant class as well as its seafaring roots, though now it is driven by international finance and by being a hub for shipping. By being a port and merchant trading Mecca, Hamburg, like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, is known for being open to outsiders and is a welcoming city with a liberal view of society and tolerance towards foreign customs. This openness has been a major factor in Hamburg’s becoming a leading city in business and trade, but it also made it a center of shame too. The major plotters and terrorists in the 911 attacks, including Mohamed Atta lived and used Hamburg as their European base. Hamburg also has a huge branch of Melini Bank or Iran, that has come under scrutiny for it’s dealings in sourcing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and it has a large church of Scientology, which is not too much liked elsewhere in Germany. While no one would suggest Hamburg was to blame, it has been terribly unlucky for the associations. Hamburg, never mind who claimed to rule it whether they be Danish Kings or German Kaisers, has always been almost an independent state, and it’s legend is: a “Free and Hansa City”. The Hanseatic period was between 13th and 17th Centuries and was a loose trading group of city states in Northern Europe and the Baltics and made up what was known as the Hanseatic League of mostly merchant ports, like Copenhagen, Denmark, Riga, Latvia and Stockholm, Sweden all of which including Hamburg became rich cultural cities during this time.

Like all of the North and Nordic cities, the Lutheran movement and the Protestant Reformation influenced Hamburg when Martin Luther broke away from the Catholic Church. This 16th Century movement led to a stable or independent working class and a rule of mans law instead of Church justice alone. This was also a time when these Northern cities embraced beer brewing as well, with Bavarian brewers bringing their yeast strains north to produce lager styles of beer and commercially sell them, and use these port cities as export trade sites. While Hamburg may not be well known as a great beer city it does produce some good beer and has many highly regarded brewpubs making many interesting styles of beer. I myself found one great small brewpub overlooking one of Hamburg’s beautiful canals, Joh. Albrecht Brauhaus, which makes small batches of seasonal beer almost daily. I really enjoyed their Weiss bier, served in a huge glass and the food was flavorful and fresh as well. I could enjoy Hamburg in any season, but being Californian and not suited for long cold Northern European winters, would recommend spring, summer or fall as ideal seasons for Hamburg. I was there in April and it was unseasonably warm with 70-75 F degrees, making lots of walking even more enjoyable with outdoor dinning as well. Speaking of churches, Hamburg has many lovely churches ranging from the mentioned Lutheran to Baroque and even Gothic in styles, the Nikolaikirche with its glorious spire being my favorite. The St. Nikolai was left partially destroyed and burnt from the firebombing in 1943 as a memorial, but it is still a thing of awe and beauty, though a solemn reminder of the horrors of the past.

Seeing the sights
For my visit to Hamburg, I stayed in the notorious and lively St. Pauli district, home to the famed Reeperbahn, a street in the middle of the Red-Light heart of Hamburg, where you find neon lit strip and sex clubs, erotic shops, music venues, pubs and windows with sex for sale like Amsterdam. In fact Hamburg’s Red-Light district is bigger than any in Europe officially, even though Prague, in the Czech Republic, maybe bigger now unofficially! Also, there is the huge Erotic Art Museum for those who need to brush up on their sex history and the history of erotic art, though I meant to visit, I just ran out of time. I picked a quiet and small hotel a few blocks away from the main Reeperbahn up on Budapester Stasse and was happy I did, because it was not loud or neon light affected and right across the street from the home of the St. Pauli Football Club, and I enjoyed checking out Hamburg’s second biggest soccer teams’ home field. Since I was on foot, I was glad it was not too far away from the action and some really nice local pubs where Hamburg’s large brewers beer was on tap, Astra is similar to most international style lagers, though a little less polished with a slightly raw flavor which seemed to fit these ex-sailor and drive bars. Some of these places were so dark and gritty I felt like I had been transported to the age of hard sailing ship times.  To get my nerve up to check out some of the more exotic clubs in St. Pauli, I stumbled in to the Thomas Read Irish Pub, where I found ex-pats and locals drinking good beers and watching soccer, so I felt right at home and quickly became happy and comfortably numb.  Why do all of us ex-pats end up in Irish Pubs? That became the night’s big question that was left unanswered.

Time to go wild in Hamburg, and visit a few places on the Reeperbahn and walk down sum interesting alleyways. During the day the Reeperbahn is pretty tame and you even see tourists and the whole family walking down it as if it were a normal attraction, but at night the neon glow gives it a real wild energy. While there is a main Police station right on the Reeperbahn and it is a fairly safe place despite its reputation, I was careful not to be pick-pocketed and didn’t flash money around. Best to be without the Rolex and expensive camera when you go out here, if just not to get the wrong attention. The Reeperbahn does have some seedy areas, some beggars, some druggies and even a few shouting crazies around, but you can easily avoid them and there is very little in the way of danger to fear here, even if you are a nervous type, which I’m not.  With legal prostitution and health and protection codes, Hamburg is a center for safe sex tourism, and in which many of the sex workers say empowers women and reduces human trafficking, though I’m not expert and will not try to begin to give you all the stats from their argument. I did ask a few women about their lives and they seemed very adjusted, educated and financially secure, so I hope for the best and believe this legal activity is the right way, but everyone can believe as they see fit. My tour of the strip and sex clubs was a thrilling adventure and one I surely won’t forget even if it was tame compared to what Hamburg has to offer. Make sure you haggle with the door people as they can make their own deals to get you in with drink tokens and entrance fees, I learned this early and got some great deals on drinks and free previews of the girls which shows it pays to play hardball and go on off nights for even better deals. I went to a club, which advertised a 50 Euro entrance fee, but I only paid 24 Euros and got 3 beers, schnapps and a lap dance, with the regular 10 Striptease shows included. Not bad, and the women were all beautiful model-types and had smiles and conversations that were both charming and intelligent in manner and substance. Then it was to the next place and a step up in the erotic scale, a sex club where live sex acts can happen both on stage, in public and in private booths, though I only ended up having a nice chat with one of girls, a nice woman that neither pressured me or tried to sell me on anything, and though there was some wild scenes going on a few feet away, we happily talked about Hamburg, healthcare, politics and her nice flat in which she has all ready finished paying off. She was a confident and well-studied woman, who was getting her doctorate degree. While there was some more raunchy clubs and fetish type places, that may not appeal to me, but there is plenty of options for all kinds and all tastes.

Closing thoughts
Hamburg is a historic and hanseatic city that has it share of flaws, but that has many more positives to enjoy and offers many interesting highlights for the savvy traveler. While I may not want to spend my whole vacation in Hamburg, if visiting Germany or Europe, it is a city not to be missed if you are in the area. I will most surely go to Hamburg again, as it is close to many of my other favorite cities, like Copenhagen, Malmo, Riga and is easy to get to, especially by rail and not expensive to stay in once there. Hamburg has great eating, shopping and every type of entertainment you could ever imagine and then some. The city is clean and has both a modern skyline and old world charm, but with lots of edgy character and a wild side too. With friendly beautiful people and with an interesting history, this city can capture you and enthrall you. While the relaxed attitude towards sex maybe not be the biggest selling point, with all the culture and maritime trimmings, it does give Hamburg more texture, and food scene is almost as exciting with a surprising array of local ingredients that are delicious. Hamburg is a great city to drink in and savor with an independent and prideful population that is welcoming and friendly.

Places I went:

Thomas Read Irish Pub
www.thomasread.com

Nobistor 10
22767 Hamburg, Germany
+49 40 31171840

Brauhaus Joh. Albrecht
www.brauhaus-joh-albrecht.de
Adolphsbrücke 7
20457 Hamburg, Germany
+49 40 367740

Hotel Budapester Hof
www.seekhotelrates.com
Paulinenstr. 16
20359 Hamburg, Germany
+49 40 4397972

Info:

Hamburg Website
www.hamburg.de/en

Germany DK Eyewitness Travel Book
www.dk.com

Moscow, Russia

Fermented Travel: Moscow

By Kerry Winslow

First Published in 2007. Please note as of 2013 Russia has banned street vending of Beer, raised alcohol taxes and cut advertizing for alcohol in an effort to stop alcohol related death in the general population. And of course Mr. Putin has come back as President of Russia!

FTMoscowLanding in Moscow at the Sheremetevo 2 airport, what a mix of emotions, fear excitement and expectations of this land, Russia. Growing up when I did, Russia was the bad nuclear enemy and a dark and tragic place that held a certain fascination and until recently was a big mystery. Once landed and the terrifying passport and customs control was cleared it was into the Moscow night and amongst some of the worst traffic I’ve scene since a Friday night on the 405 in Los Angeles!

I’m here to celebrate, a boyhood friend and now ex-pat living here, Michael Cordy is my guide, lucky for me as English is not spoken very much here and nothing is printed in Latin, so finding places is near impossible. Sitting in a taxi catching up, Michael shows me the massive building projects going on, this is a huge city that is growing at a phenomenal rate. Moscow all ready rates as one of the great cities of the world and now it is charging up that list and fast. I learned quickly that Moscow is a city whose citizens are obsessed with Politics and are some of the biggest beer drinkers in the world. Everywhere in the city people are buzzing about this cabinet minister or the new deputy prime minister, I mean for Russian’s it is deadly serious. They are freaks for it, much like the Brit’s are for the royals or like us American’s go for pop stars or pop tarts, read Brittney Spears and Paris Hilton.

In March 2008, Putin is stepping down and there will be a new leader taking office, that was the big question while I was visiting, and now it looks set to be Dmitry Medvedev, one of Putin’s most trusted deputies. He is also the youngest and seems to be the most business and markets serious and a moderate. This could be great news for us, in American and western governments politically, giving hope that relations will get back on track. Putin is not going away though and Russians are very happy about this, he is wildly popular and looking at his reign in total, his policies have brought stability and middle class growth that no one could have imagined, and this has also created maybe the biggest beer market in the world.

Even though they have only a slight history in brewing beer the Russian’s have gone crazy for beer since it became unregulated in 1991. Besides the beautiful Orthodox Church and it’s amazingly pious faithful, Russia has two new icons, Putin and Baltika (Beer). I know, yes I know “What, you must be crazy, it is vodka and caviar!” but you’d be surprised as I was.

Moscow The Russian Capital: Quick & Basic Facts
Moscow started as a small trading village in the 8th century in a turbulent rural area that was on an ancient merchant route, but really became a fortified city in around 1147 and was founded by Yuri Dolgorukion at the confluence of the Moskva and Neglinnaya rivers. Now at least 10 Million People call Moscow home, and more are coming in all the time. Moscow became the capital of the Principality of Muscovy and it started to grow into a coveted city. Moscow then become a target of raids and was pillaged few times, finally being sacked by Khan Batu of the Golden Horde (in 1237) which lead to more than two centuries of rule by the Tartars.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Moscow was known as the “Third and Last Rome” and it took on the Byzantine double-headed eagle emblem, which is now the symbol of the Russian State. In 1584 Ivan ‘the Terrible’ dies, after making a regional power of Moscow by using supreme brutality and force upon his people. In 1613 the Romanovs come into power with Mikhail Romanov becoming the Tsar of all the Russias. The Tsars ruled without mercy and cruelly until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Moscow became one of the world’s greatest and most powerful cities though it did lose its capital status a few times under the Tsars and it burned down by fire twice, once in 1712 after which Peter ‘the Great’ named St. Petersburg the capital, then again by its own citizens to force Napoleon and his out in 1812! Between 1825 and 1905 the Tsar tried to repress the population and live beyond the dreams of Gods and Kings of which lead to many revolts, wars and even terrorist attacks, one even ended in the assassination of Alexander II.

This took its toll on the Tsars, and finally the last Tsar Nicholas II introduced a constitution and allowed an elected body to be formed as an assembly known as the Duma. Sadly Nicholas, lead Russia into the disastrous WWI, ‘a straw that broke the camels’ back moment in history. The result was the 1917 Bolshevik uprising and Vladimir Lenin was swept into power in St. Petersburg, but he knew Moscow was the place to cement his place as the supreme leader and in Nov. 1917 he proclaims Moscow the capital. In 1918 he has the Tsar and his family executed, as their presence kept some hopes alive that they would return to power and he had a civil war and foreign armies to deal with. In 1922 the Soviet Union was formed with Moscow as the capital and seat of power, but Lenin died shortly after not seeing his Marxism-communism utopian dream come true or to real fruition. That was 1924 and in the fight to fill the vacuum of power was won by Josef Stalin ‘the Butcher’ who ruled the USSR until his death in 1954.

Stalin from his wing of the Kremlin over saw one of the most violent and murderous regimes of all time, it is said that he ordered the death of close to 20 Million people. Some died through failed attempts to create farm collectives, which led to massive relocation and famine that took about 5 million lives, or just because of paranoid whim. He thought everyone was out to take his power so he had the secret police, the CheKa (NKVD) that became the dreaded KGB, find traitors and ship them off to Gulags in Siberia or just make them disappear. Most were not traitors, in fact he was more afraid of the hero’s of the motherland and many patriots were slaughtered for no good reason. Moscow was the most feared city in the world during this time and it kept its reputation until even today. The Nazis sneak attack against Russia made strange bedfellows of the USA and the USSR. Hitler’s panzers and storm troopers got to the outskirts of Moscow, but the Red Army held out bravely and when winter came the Germans were doomed. It is said the best Russian generals were January and February, but Marshal Zhukov was the man that led the Russians to Berlin and the end of the Third Reich. Russia lost 20 Million souls during what they still call the Great Patriotic War.

After Stalin’s death the communist party took over and the Supreme Soviet elected first Nikita Khrushchev, and the Cold War started in earnest. Moscow was a scary place if you were a US citizen and we lived in nuclear fear through the line of General Secretary’s (Soviet leaders) that followed Khrushchev; Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko. By this time Russia had enough, it had no money and no will to keep it up, especially after the disastrous invasion of Afghanistan, and Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and he oversaw the end of the Soviet Union and began opening up Russia to the West. His Glasnost and Perestroika policies took hold and led to Moscow’s revival as a great world city. It was a bumpy ride and the mayor of Moscow, Boris Yeltsin, had to come to the rescue to after a communist last gasp coup attempt. This though brought Gorbachev down and Yeltsin took the helm of the new Russian Federation.

Moscow was now free, but unfortunately freedom led to chaos and crime was the real winner, and the Russian Mafia stripped any and every asset left in the city and the whole of Russia. The free market system was not making life much better in Moscow and poor Yeltsin had too many crisis to fix and turned to Vodka, though he tried to hold it all together. He sent troops into Chechnya in 1994, which they were not prepared for, so worried he’d have another Afghanistan he signed a peace accord. This saved him, and he was re-elected in 1996, but he soon started sinking into depression and alcohol again. Russia needed a strong and forceful leader to deal with crime lords, oligarchs and the Chechen terrorist, and an ex-KGB leader came in from the cold to bring Russia back in line, this was Vladimir Putin. Putin took power as an appointed Prime Minister then as the elected President in 2000. Since this time Moscow has regained its glory and is as dynamic as any city anywhere, even though it has had to deal with terrorist attacks and still suffers from that threat and even though major violent crime is down it still can be a problems. Moscow is growing by leaps and bounds and even if Putin is taking the country away from a true democracy the people of Russia are firmly behind him as their lives continue to get better and better. The population has seen a major increase in wealth under Putin, most people’s salaries have doubled in the last few years and the middle class is growing at a faster rate than in the West. There is hope here and overall it looks positive.

Oil and natural gas wealth has been diverted from big companies domestic and foreign to the Kremlin controlled companies leading many to cry foul, but it has given the government real stability and economic clout. Even with this heavy-handed approach there has been a real boom for all business and with a 13 percent flat tax on income Russia has become a great place to do business and earn good money. The market there is growing at a great rate and looks to become the second largest luxury market after the USA in the next few years. Lots of uncertainties about Putin leaving power are now the headlines, as he is supposed to step down in March 2008, when his second term as president ends. He has set in motion a movement to keep power and looks set to lead from behinds the scenes. All this intrigue makes Moscow just that much more exciting and electric!

Moscow: A City Obsessed With Politics and Beer
Most people think of Vodka when they consider Russia in a drinking way, but in Moscow beer is wildly popular and drunk everywhere. Beer is well thought of in Russia, it is a cultured beverage even though it is also more commonly found on the street than our plastic water bottles seem to be in every ones hands in major cities in the USA. In fact beer and tea are still much more popular in Russia than coffee. I saw more Carlsberg than cappuccino or mochas in people’s hands, no question. So what is going on? Beer is exploding in Russia, and especially in the capital Moscow. There was one real beer is Russia under Soviet rule, a light and boring brew that tastes more like Corona than Imperial Stout, but since 1991 the market for premium beer has grown at an unbelievable rate. Now everyone wants a piece of this lucrative market and global brands are pouring millions into advertising and promotions here.

The beers in Moscow were all very drinkable and some rival Western brews, their most popular brands are Baltika and Arsenalnoye, according to the late beer guru Michael Jackson. Baltika brews around 12 different styles and exports to at least 38 countries and is jointly owned by Carlsberg of Denmark and Scottish & Newcastle of the UK, even though the brewery started in 1990 in Saint Petersburg. I tried most of Baltika’s line up and found the Porter and Wheat Beer excellent and fresh, though their Lager is the most found in the pubs and taps which is by no means a bad thing as it is a good glass of suds. Beer has been helped by the fact that the former Soviet Republics of Georgia & Moldova have had embargos forced on them by the Russian government, so these countries have not been sending wine into Russia. These countries produced the best and cheapest wine in Russia and now the choices are mostly Italian or French, both of which are not traditional to Russia and they are much more pricy. So beer took advantage of that, plus beer actually goes better with the Russian menu of foods. Politic Games have favored brewski in this case, you just have to love the intrigue here, and this is an exciting city.

In Moscow you will find beer gardens, well out-door cafes that really end up as beer gardens and thousands of warm pubs all over the city. You can even find rolling kiosks that serve beer from a keg on tap in the parks, in fact we had a draft at the Kremlin, right in front of the cadets in training doing exercises in uniform at the Kremlin gate. It was an experience that I would have never dreamed of as a teenager! Sitting on the grass, overlooking the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, mere feet from Red Square, sipping on a nice Baltika lager. Growing up hearing about Stalin, Brezhnev and Khrushchev and lived in fear of Russia, now I wish that I had learned about the real Russian soul and read Pushkin, Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. This is an amazing City with a long history that is both tragic and heroic, but always fascinating. Walking down the “Old Arbat” gets the heart pumping with graceful buildings, uneven cobblestones, street performers, outdoors dining, lots of tourists and very beautiful women dressed to kill, and it has to be one of the great beer drinking spots in Moscow. From here you can find souvenirs, people watch and catch up with friends after a day of sightseeing or work.

Moscow: Getting Around
Forget ever thinking about driving in Moscow unless you have a death wish or love LA traffic and your homesick for a parking lot, as the city was never set up for the personal automobile. The Russian drive aggressively, but fairly. I can attest to the crazy nature of driving here, as we went through the process of renting a car and driving around town. Reading the local papers has examples horrific crashes almost everyday, these are very sobering stories and my friends here tell terrifying tales of the worst crash scenes this week! If this keeps up, well, Russia might catch up with us Americans! Besides the threat of being part of a fireball or any other gruesome image that come to mind, it is almost as scary to just fill out the paperwork at the rental car agency. I swear it lasted an hour and was a form that makes Tolstoy’s epic “War & Peace” seem a weekend read! So enjoy Moscow, take the Metro!

The Metro here is amazing and more like entering a museum than a subway. Everything is spotless and ultra clean with statues and marble everywhere. Riding the trains is fast and easy and safe, though you need to study Cyrillic and do your homework into where you need to go and which line gets there, I was lucky to be with natives and they guided me around without me venturing into Tunnels alone. All the stations are different and unique with beautiful socialistic artworks adoring the walls and ceilings. Most of the Metro system was accomplished under the brutal hand of Stalin, but you might even let that slide when you marvel at these wonderful holes in the ground. More people ride the Moscow Metro system each day than London, New York and Paris combined and there is a train every sixty seconds and no spray paint! You can study the Metro layout well in advance either online or any good travel guide, please do this before any trip to Moscow, oh yes, trust me on this one.

Moscow: Info & Reference

Beer and Hot Spots

Baltika, now owned by Carlsberg of Demark, and the biggest brand in Russia now, is available everywhere. This is a company that is exploding in popularity and brews about 13 different types of beer, all of which taste like crafted beers and of high quality.

Arsenalnoye, a Baltika brand label, that remains big in the market and has a high profile in Moscow itself.

Bavarius Beer House, a big beer house with a big selection of local and imported beer.
www.bavarius.ru
Kosomolskiy Prospekt 21/10

Reference

The Moscow Times
English Language Newspaper
www.themoscowtimes.com
*Daily free paper, great guide to the city with restaurant and club reviews as well as political news.

Thomas Cook Guide Travellers “Moscow & St. Petersburg” 2nd Edition

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide “Moscow”

DK Eyewitness Companions “Beer” editor-in-chief Michael Jackson

*Facts checked and researched with the following guidebooks:

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide ‘Moscow’ & Thomas Cook Travellers ‘Moscow & Saint Petersburg’ 2nd Edition

Rudesheim, Germany

Fermented Travel: Rudesheim, A Small (Wine) Town in Germany
By Kerry Winslow
FTRudesheimRudesheim on the Rhein (Rhine) River is a beautiful and rewarding wine travel destination with lots to see and do that has something for everyone. The whole town is one big area dedicated to the glories of Riesling, with great reason, as it sits right below some of the best Riesling vineyards on earth. Even by chance you weren’t a big fan of wine, I still recommend a visit, because this very affordable place has plenty other charms on offer, including river cruises, great beer, sublime natural activities that feature forest walks, river promenade strolling with the local fowl, tough hikes, biking treks and romantic sightseeing. I must say the place was easy to walk and get around, plus I took a train from the Frankfurt International Airport to Rudesheim, so I never had to grab a cab or rent a car or even a bike the whole time I stayed. I did take the cable car and a chair lift, and if you saw the hill, you would too! I did put in two wonderful hikes during my visit to Rudesheim and toured the town by foot, giving me a chance to work up my appetite which turned into a blessing as the food was very enjoyable indeed, especially the fresh white asparagus that was huge and fantastic with hollandaise sauce. The German’s go crazy for the “Spargel” and I was lucky to have timed my trip well, as they only get 8 to 9 weeks of this magic!

Rudesheim is to Riesling as Napa is to Cabernet, so when in Rome as they say, and I went Riesling nuts, but as always I still looked for Pinot Noir and other interesting things. I met some locals that pointed out small wineries and gave nice tips on food and local interest sites as well. I ran into a few winemakers and long solo vineyard walks, but there are “Wine Gardens” almost on every corner here so I got to try lots a great wine in fun social settings and just relaxed and took in the local color. Rudesheim even had Wine Kiosks! What a great idea, it was great to walk by the river, step into the park and find a local vintner pour his wines at a tiny wooden kiosk surrounded by trees and grass, brilliant, though I enjoyed the kiosk near the market square best and it was the place where I had the best wines. I learned to my surprise that the locals drink mostly dry Riesling, and I mean dry, even drier than Alsace, and though I had tasted a few super dry Rieslings from Germany, I was pleased more with the ones I tried here. In fact, I only drunk dry wines here, well I did have few Spatleses, but no Auslese or sweeter. Looking back it seems weird, though it felt perfectly natural, as that is what went with the food and mood of the place.

At Rudesheim’s center square, I found a tiny kiosk that served local wines, and met a local winemaker pouring his wines. Hans-Peter Veith-Bertam a researcher at the famed Geisenheim makes a small amount of beautiful Riesling from family vineyards that have been in the family since the 1800’s at least, and may even go back to the late 1600’s!  Now he leases most of the vineyard sites to other wineries, a move that lets him make high quality wine and keep his well-regarded day job. He showed me 3 stunning Rieslings, mostly in the drier “local” style, which is in fashion here, plus a 1999 Spatlese that was still perfectly fresh and rich in fruit. Best of all, unlike what we find at home in the USA, they all were fewer than 11 Euros, or $16-17 dollars! It was great to find Hans-Peter, as the grapes come from the vineyards I spent my time hiking to above Rudesheim, letting me really taste the place under foot.

2008 Veith-Bertram “Via Castellum” Riesling “Rudesheimer Bergweg” Trocken (Dry) Rheingau, German White.
This wonderful and fresh young Riesling has plenty of everything to appeal to everyone, but is bone dry and brightly flavored. This wine shows off pretty lime and citrus flower, with tangy white peach, melon, tropical fruit and loads of mineral and flinty slate. Should gain a bit of weight in the future, but is clean, refreshing and zesty now.

2008 Veith-Bertram “Rosarius Versura” Riesling “Rudesheimer Berg Roseneck” Kabinett Feinlieb, Rheingau, German White.
Roseneck is one of the finest Reisling vineyard sites in German, and is in a stunningly beautiful location overlooking the bend of the Rhein River with castles and eagles all in view as well, this site is steep and gives tiny yields of great fruit. This wine, while only a Kabinett is intense and has vigor, with vibrant deep fruit that explodes on the palate. This vintage looks to be a classic around here and shows loads of stone fruit, peach, apricot and white plum, along with pineapple, guava and pure apple in the background, with some tangerine and citrus flowers. This wine will gain muscle and flesh with time, though it is lovely and balanced now. This wine has good fruit, plenty even, but still remains dry and tangy.

1999 Vieth-Bertram Riesling Spatlese “Rudesheimer Berg Roseneck” Rheingau, German White.
Even with 10 years of age, this gem is fresh and zesty with full body and a slight honey tone to the lush apricot and applely fruit. The mature side takes a bit to come through, but finally does with a classic petrol fume and thick liquid mineral feel on the nose and palate that adds to the whole, showing the complexities of aged Riesling. Even though a Spatlese, the sweetness feels perfectly balanced and makes this wine great for anytime drinking, though it would be killer with crab.

Visit Germany

Riga, Latvia

Fermented Travel: Riga

By Kerry Winslow

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Riga, the capital of Latvia is a beautiful and historic city that has about 4000 years of recorded habitation, though most historians consider its founding to be when German traders arrived in the 12th century, and a long and trying past, as Latvia has had only about half a century of independence total in all that time. Riga itself sits just up the Daugava River from the Gulf of Riga and reminds you of Stockholm or a bit like St. Petersburg, though very much unique. Still Latvian culture has endured and remains strong with their language and folk music that is ever present in even this modern world. I came to Riga to meet a friend, an American like myself, but one that has been living in Moscow for the last 6 years and had been in Prague for the 6 or so years before that. He was a wonderful tour guide and was able to get me into the spirit of the place right away with a drink in a local pub in the old town within 45 minutes of landing in this beautiful city. Michael did have connections and the apartment he rented for us was ideally located in the heart of the old town and very near the medieval section and close walking distance to everything important to see and experience here. Smooth cobblestones greeted my feet as we ventured into the Riga night, I had just spent a week in Sweden with friends and at first saw some Scandinavian accents here and there, and in fact at one time Riga was the second capital of Sweden. The history breathes in this place and its mark is everywhere. The Finns, the Danes and the Swedes all ruled here, but it is the German and Russian occupations that are remembered here and still there is much bitterness that can be felt. Soviet liberation is sweet for Latvians and only came in the early nineties and one is struck by its effect.

That said, the Russian influence will continue here as a third of the population in Latvia are ethnic Russians and their language seems to be the most widely spoken, even as the Latvians tear down signs and billboards in that tongue. The German influence remains in the Lutheran churches and of course the beer, of which I enjoyed very much. That first sip convinced me, and the smoke filled pub just added to the atmosphere in this charming city, though the pole at the end of the bar with the beautiful young blonde in a bikini didn’t hurt either.

That first night in Riga, Michael and myself savored the local favorites Aldaris and Cesis beer brands and stuck to their Pils, both of which were fresh and very tasty. Over the next couple of days we ventured Riga far and wide from its riverbanks, parks, soviet blocks, orthodox Russian churches, museums and of course the city’s fantastically located beer gardens and trying some of their more exotic beers and ales. Bee keeping has a long history here as well and honey is cherished and honeycomb is like gold at the marketplaces, so as you’d imagine honey mead is popular and indeed very nice here and the are honey beers too of which I had a few during a sun drenched afternoon that saw us chatting away about how Riga remains totally unique and how it has absorbed western influence without much loss in its old world ways. There are cell phone stores, Puma boutiques and a few Pizza Huts like the rest of western Europe, but in Riga somehow they seem to go unnoticed with everything else that grabs your attention like markets in most squares selling handmade linens, hand crafts, amber jewelry and traditional garments.

The sounds of Riga are different and are like nothing like anywhere else I’ve traveled. An old Russian soldier played fiddle for us, in between telling us of his march to Berlin in 1944 and his time now unwanted by both his motherland and his adopted Latvia, neither of which will not pay his army pension. Things are different here and many struggle with life in this new age here. We were approached by little kids begging, scurried away by Michael shouting at them in his perfect Russian and then smiled and groped at by “massage therapists” with perfect creamy white skin and ultra purple eyes who we gently sent on their way without any tinge of quilt. It was time to get back to the beer, and a wonder live-hop style called Uzavas of which we tried both the Bauska or Tervetas brands at two of our favorite beer taverns. These beers were some of the best hoppy beers I’ve had and highly recommend them. Latvia also does dark beers in porter and stout styles to and we sampled some of these while taking in a real Latvian lunch at a traditional restaurant Michael found here a couple of years ago. It was all dark wood and had many fireplaces and the food was served buffet style with a tray and all, which I found somewhat Las Vegasish, but real in its local feel. Latvian food tends to be heavy and dull tasting, though it should serve them well in the cold of winter. There is fish, though it tends to be cured or pickled, so my quest for a light lunch didn’t fly too well, especially after I sat down with my lightly battered chicken breast which turned out to be stuffed with ground beef and ham! Thank god for the beer, most definitely the best part of the Latvian lunch, no question.

Honestly the best food I had in Riga was had when we slipped off to an Uzbekistan restaurant in the suburbs that had great lamb and couscous, that we eat up with a pleasant Georgian red wine, though we had a few lager style local brews as well. Apart from the great beer, Latvians drink up Vodka like water in the clubs and discos, which are mostly run by the Russians still. Latvians in Riga enjoy a secret liqueur called Riga Balzam or Black Balzams, it is a hundred year old recipe that is made up of roots, flowers, herbs and various juices, it is both sweet and bitter and is an acquired taste much like some of the other herbal liqueurs found across Europe that were made by monks over the last couple hundred years or so.

Riga, one of the great Hanseatic League cities and a place to see an Unesco World Heritage Site for its old town, is an amazing city with lots of soul and life that will intrigue you and leave you mystified and place you’ll want to visit again and not just for the great beer.
Places to visit

Occupation Museum of Latvia
Address: Strelnieku laukums 1, Riga, LV-1050
Telephone: +371 7212715 Fax +371 7229255
Opening Times:
01.05.-30.09. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 11-17
01.10.-30.04. 1 2,3,4,5,6,7 11-17
Email: omf@latnet.lv
http://www.occupationmuseum.lv

Zelta beer gardens-Livu Square

Nightlife
La Rocca Night Club
Brivibas 96
+371 7506030
www.larocca.lv