Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mead Me at Vendome

Crushed grapes.  That's what wine is all about.  Isn't it?  Or is it?

Well, to tell you the truth, and you do want the whole truth and nothing but the truth now, don't you?  Then what about plum wine, peach wine, blueberry and blackberry wine?  And let's not forget about elderberry and raspberry, dandelion and Japanese rice wine.  It's a really long list and I'm just getting started.

Crushed yet?  Now, hold on.  I'm not trying to press you on this point – or maybe I am.  But it seems to me that if you're gonna talk wine, you might have to stop clutching those grapes so tightly and embrace, if only ever so gently, a whole world of wine that lives and thrives outside the grape.

Sweet?  Well, I'd say, sweet as honey.  And yes, there's a wine that's made from that and it happens to be called Mead.

Now, if you've never had a taste, I'd like to share with you a unique opportunity I had at Vendome Wine & Spirits in Los Angeles’ Toluca Lake, to sample an international lineup of these honey inspired wines.

So, let’s start our sweet journey with the very first pour – the Traditional Mead from the Sap House Meadery in the American northeast.  Made of honey, water and yeast, this traditional mead from New Hampshire, contains honey that's sourced locally from nearby Maine.  Yellow golden in the glass, it offers a sweet but not too sweet taste of New England that's light bodied with a medium short finish, concluding in an earthy note.

Crossing the continent to the flat plains of the American northwest, our second taste of sweetness is from Montana's Hidden Legend.  Their Dark Mead honeywine was, for them, a happy accident, as a pot of honey warming on the stove was forgotten about for a little too long a time.  And the result is a mead with a pronounced caramelized edge.  Toasty golden brown in color with yellow highlights, this mead, that’s made with Montana wildflower honey, has a heavily honeyed nose and a full-bodied mouthfeel.

On the move once again, zipping far north to grizzly bear country is where you’ll find our next honeyed offering – the Joan of Arctic, a collaborative effort between the Midnight Sun Brewing Company of Anchorage, Alaska and the Stone Brewing Company of southern California.  Just to mix things up a bit, here's an ale brewed with rhubarb and honey that’s a light caramel brown in color, with a thin foamy head.  But it's honey scented nose is contrasted by its pronounced hoppy bitterness that lingers on your tongue, like a tart embrace.

Crisscrossing back east again to Londonderry, New Hampshire, is a mead made with honey, black currant and rhubarb that's called Flame from Moonlight Meadery.  An attractive deep raspberry red flecked with brown with a nose heavily scented with honey, Flame is full of raspberry and honey flavors, that are all nicely tempered by the rhubarb's concluding bitterness.  And at 13.9% ABV, this is one red moon with a pleasantly warming glow.

And ping-ponging back to Montana, we get a taste of Hidden Legend’s, The King’s Cyser Apple Mead. Cyser is a type of mead in which honey and apple juice are fermented together and this is one mead that could add a sure fire touch to poached apples.  Hazy golden yellow in color with a honey grapey nose and flavor, The King’s Cyser was reminiscent of a muscat wine.  Apples and honey have long been a winning combination, with the apples’ tartness balancing out excessive sweetness, and all wrapped up in a pleasant light-bodied wine.

Our last taste of Montana concluded in Hidden Legend’s Wild Chokecherry Mead, which is a blending of a wild Montanan cherry with honeywine.  The cherry is found throughout Montana and used in syrups and jellies, and acquired its name from its very tart taste, since the cherry doesn't sweeten until after a frost.

We’ll have to cross an ocean to find the source of the very next mead, since the Lindisfarne Mead from St. Aiden’s Winery is made on a tidal island just off the northeastern coast of England.  As the tide goes out on the Northumberland shore, a finger of land leading to the island appears, which then disappears, when the tide rushes back in.  And as can be imagined, this daily drama held for many a mystical significance, which is why many tidal islands contain religious sites.

And so it is with the island of Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island, which became an important center of Celtic Christianity with the founding of its sixth century monastery by the Irish monk, Saint Aiden.  And to honor this tradition, the borders decorating the Lindisfarne Mead’s labels are taken from the Lindisfarne Gospels, which were written on the island around 700 CE.

And since mead has been enjoyed on the island since medieval times, it should come as no surprise that they've created a delicious recipe, which is a blend of fermented white grapes, honey and herbs, that are then fortified with fine spirits.

Bright gold in color with pretty yellow reflections, this excellent mead with its rich honey aromas, has a delicately sweet flavor, kept perfectly in check by the fermented grapes’ acidity.  It's a delightfully delicious taste from a very historic place.

And now, on the final leg of our journey, we hop across the English Channel and continue east to Lublin, Poland, which is keeping alive a tradition of mead making even older than Lindisfarne.

A staple in Eastern Europe, mead is a national Polish beverage with a tradition that’s well over 1000 years old.  Made by pre-Christian Slavic tribes on Polish lands, mead making developed because the climate was difficult for grape vines to ripen, but yet the lands were filled with swarms of wild bees.

For many centuries, mead was only served at the tables of the nobility and became such a necessity, that the Polish Prince Leszek The White told the Pope that the Polish knights couldn’t participate in the Crusades because there was no mead in Palestine.

Called miód pitny ("drinkable honey"), Polish mead is made in four different strengths, each with a different proportion of honey to water.

The strongest of the styles, which is called a Póltorak, and the one that we’re tasting, is made with three parts honey to one part water.  Produced by the Apis Apiculture Cooperative in central eastern Poland, the company is also a leading manufacturer of meads and bee honeys.

Based on traditional recipes and production methods, the Apis Póltorak Jadwiga Honey Raspberry Wine happens to be one queen of the meads, and not only in style but also in name.

For Jadwiga was the queen of 14th century Poland and upon her marriage to the King of Lithuania, this recipe was created to celebrate the event.  And after taking a sip, I'd say royal and regal are my tasting descriptions of this masterful mead that's the top of the line.

Deep amber in the glass with huge “legs” when swirled, the bouquet is floral and honey scented with rich flavors that subtly blend raspberry and prune with smooth brown sugar.  Silky and satisfying, mouth-filling, yet balanced, the queen of the tasting arrived at the very end.

And now here's a peek at my Cooking with Mead Series that's coming up next – 

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