More Favorites in Charlottesville

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over we can get back to our regular posting schedule. On the second day of our Charlottesville trip over the Veterans Day weekend we visited more wineries. Three of the wineries we visited were King Family Vineyards, Sugarleaf Vineyards, and Keswick Vineyards.

A beautiful crisp fall day greeted us as we began our tasting at King Family. As with other Virginia wineries, King Family is low on their white wines. Of course we enjoyed both the 2010 Viognier and the 2010 Chardonnay. The 2010 Viognier presented melon flavors with the addition of peach and apricot in the mouth. We also noted the full mouth feel of this wine. We thought we might be enjoying it later with the fall colors.

Of the reds we were split. Warren really enjoyed the 2009 Meritage and jotted down violets, cigars, sandalwood, and earthy elements. I really enjoyed the 2010 Cabernet Franc and wrote down earth, spice, and raspberry.

After our tasting we enjoyed a bottle of the 2010 Viognier with nibbles on the grounds at King Family. The fall colors were perfect. While enjoying our wine, winemaker Matthieu Finot joined us for some wine chat. We always enjoy chatting with Matthieu. Before leaving we promised Matthieu that we’d return when we had more time to talk and taste some barrel samples.

Next up is Sugarleaf Vineyards. We hadn’t visited Sugarleaf for a while and it was time to see what was new at Sugarleaf. Sugarleaf also only had two white wines to taste and of these we put our star next to the 2008 Chardonnay. We noted apple and vanilla and a nice crisp finish. Of the reds we really enjoyed the 2010 Petit Verdot. Here we noted plum and spice with some solid tannins. I thought of some red meat with this wine.

While we were tasting we were recognized by our tasting associate and she insisted that we head down to the barrel room to meet the new winemaker Romulus Pascall. He’s been with Sugarleaf for five years and studied under the previous winemaker Dan Neumeister. He allowed us to enjoy a barrel sample of the 2010 Cuvee Neubia. He was just about to move it into more aggressive barrels to import a more buttery/smooth finish. It was quite tannic and will need more time but you could see this is going to be a very nice wine when it is released in the future.

Our final stop of the day was Keswick Vineyards. Keswick is one of our favorites. We always have a good time chatting with Stephan and Kat. And Stephan always gives us a sneak peek of the wines still in the barrel. Unfortunately this time they were both at a wedding. We missed seeing them of course but still enjoyed the wines.

Like many other Virginia wineries Keswick is low on white wines. We only tasted the 2010 Chardonnay. We have already enjoyed this one and enjoyed it again on this visit. We noted pear, green apple, and butterscotch. Of the reds we actually put stars next to the 2010 Touriga and the 2009 Merlot. The 2010 Touriga presented notes of cherry, raspberry and smoke. I instantly enjoyed the fruit characteristics of this wine. The 2009 Merlot presented cherry, coffee, and an almost creamy vanilla finish. We were thinking of which wine to bring home for dinner and ultimately decided on the 2010 Touriga. Now I wished I had gotten a second bottle for the wine rack!

We enjoyed our time in Charlottesville. Revisiting old favorites is always fun. If you haven’t been to King Family Vineyards, Sugarleaf Vineyards, or Keswick Vineyards, you need to plan a trip to Charlottesville soon! And be sure to tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Finding Some Favorites

After our stop at Trump Winery on Veterans Day weekend, we visited two more of our Charlottesville favorites, Blenheim Vineyards and Jefferson Vineyards.

At Blenheim they only had five wines to taste because of great sales lately. Of those we tasted, we really enjoyed the 2010 Chardonnay and the 2010 Cabernet Franc. The 2010 Chardonnay presented notes of pear and melon and had a crisp, refreshing ending. This one is 38% Chardonnay that is aged for five months in French and Hungarian barrels. The 2010 Cabernet Franc had a candy fruit nose and presented notes of dry herb, toffee, and a pepper end.

Towards the end of our tasting, Kirsty Harmon joined in and told us how challenging the 2011 season was for Blenheim. The amount of rain they got at the end of the season made it a difficult harvest. However, Kirsty is confident they’ll have some nice wines when they are released later this year. Kirsty also gave us a sample of the yet to be released 2010 Petit Verdot. I love Petit Verdots and this one promises to be just as nice as the 2009. After our chat with Kirsty we enjoyed a glass of the 2010 Chardonnay on the balcony. The views were beautiful with the fall colors coming to an end.

After our stop at Blenheim, we headed over to Jefferson Vineyards. We hadn’t been there since the bloggers conference in July. Unfortunately Andy Reagan wasn’t there. However, Allison, who we met at the bloggers conference was and she conducted our tasting. We always enjoy the wines at Jefferson.

From the tasting menu our favorites were the 2010 Chardonnay Reserve 2010.This is Warren’s kind of chardonnay. It presents notes of pear, apple and honey with just enough of an oak presence to stand up to food. This one always makes us think of a creamy pasta dish. Our other favorite was the 2008 Meritage. We noted dark fruit, herbs, cassis, and a smooth ending. As with other vintages of Jefferson Meritages, we think of thick filets. What a nice compliment a big piece of meat.

After our tasting I enjoyed a glass of the 2010 Chardonnay and Warren enjoyed a glass of the Chardonnay Reserve 2010. The fall colors and crisp afternoon went very well with the wines.

On your next trip to Charlottesville be sure to plan a visit to Blenheim Vineyards and Jefferson Vineyards. And be sure to tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Virginia Wines in Wine Spectator!

I recently attended a wine maker’s dinner at a local restaurant, and the topic of Virginia wine came up. My table partner who brought up the topic was rather derisive about the notion that Virginia made quality wines and even scoffed at articles written by local wine experts who compared the best local wines to those of Bordeaux or Burgundy. Of course, yours truly chimed in that Virginia did indeed make some outstanding wines and suggested to my table mate that before dismissing local wines perhaps she should get out on the wine trails and try a few. I then mentioned that many Virginia wines earn medals at international wine competitions with several earning high scores in Wine Spectator magazine. And right on cue, this month’s edition rated wines from Lovingston Winery and Tarara Winery. Entries from both wineries rated in the 85-89 range, and a wine that earns a score in this range is described as “very good: a wine with special qualities.” Here are the wines and their scores:

Lovingston Merlot Monticello Josie’s Knoll 2010 – 87 points
Lovingston Cabernet Franc Monticello Josie’s Knoll 2010 – 86 points
Tarara Honah Lee Virginia 2010 – 86 points
Tarara Nevaeh White Virginia 2010 – 85 points

Congratulations to winemakers Riaan Rossouw and Jordan Harris of Lovingston Winery and Tarara Winery respectively for the diligent efforts both in the vineyards and the barrel room. And next time you come across a naysayer about Virginia wines, remind him/her that even internationally recognized and widely read wine magazines have taken notice of Virginia wines.

Plan a visit to Lovingston Winery and Tarara Winery to sample these excellent wines, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Trump Winery

We spent Veterans Day weekend in Charlottesville visiting some of our old favorite wineries. We’ll be posting about those visits in the weeks to come. The first winery we visited on this trip was the new Trump Winery which is actually the old Kluge Winery.

There have been some changes made to the tasting room. They have painted the exterior of the building, added new bathrooms, and built terraces to enjoy your wines and the beautiful views. Besides the few changes, the tasting room basically remains the same. They have the same delicious gourmet cheese selections. And some of the staff is the same. We were happy to see a familiar face upon entering the tasting room. Tammy has conducted many of our tastings in the past so when we saw her, we knew we’d enjoy our visit.

We selected a table and heard from our personal wine steward about the different levels of tastings. We decided to go with the full flight and try all the wines since it had been awhile since we enjoyed Kluge wines. The vintages may have changed but the quality remains the same. And the price points have come down a bit from what we remember. Our wine steward presented us with the test tubes (yes, they are still using those) and a description of each wine. We opted for a cheese plate to compliment the wines. We took our time and tried all the wines and the cheeses.

Our favorites might be the same as they have been in the past. We enjoyed the 2008 Kluge Estate SP Blanc de Blanc. Here the bubbles never stopped and notes of pear, lemon, and grapefruit ended with a creamy mouth feel. We also enjoyed the 2007 Albemarle Simply Red. We noted blackberry and anise. It had a smooth finish and a deep ruby color. While I really enjoyed sipping this Bordeaux style blend, I couldn’t help but think about a big steak. The bigger, bolder 2009 Kluge Estate New World was also a favorite. We look forward to future visits to Trump Winery to sample the wines under the Trump label.

Before leaving we purchased some of our favorites and checked out all the Trump products sprinkled throughout the tasting room. If you haven’t visited Trump Winery / Kluge Winery since the changes, its time to plan a visit. And when you do, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Not So Fast

That is my response to those who are ready to dismiss the upcoming 2011 vintage. We hope to do a more comprehensive post on the 2011 harvest in the coming weeks; however, Boxwood Winery did offer a glimmer of the season’s potential. Executive Vice President Rachel Martin invited us out to the winery to sample some barrel samples of developing red wines from the 2011 harvest, and we were indeed quite impressed with what we tasted.

Readers may know that the 2011 grape growing season started with all of the potential of the heralded 2007 and 2010 seasons; however, Hurricane Irene ushered in weeks of rain throughout the state that gave vineyard managers and winemakers nightmares. Rain around harvest time is not usually appreciated in the vineyards, and this past September it came down in torrents. However, some areas of the state received more rain than others; lighter rainfall and diligent vineyard practices may have saved the grapes in many parts of Virginia.

This was clearly the case at Boxwood Vineyard. On a crisp, sunny fall day we visited Rachel Martin to sample some of the 2011 wines from the barrel. For their vineyard sites, September rainfall and little sunshine raised concerns of botrytis and sour rot; therefore, she opted for selective harvesting this season. Clusters that contained over 50% rot were not collected, and salvageable clusters were sorted berry by berry. “Painstaking” was the term used by Rachel to describe the process that consumed endless hours on harvest days. The result? Lower yields but clean fruit.

Rachel guided us to the barrel cave where we were treated to barrel samples from recently harvested 2011 grapes; in fact, the wines were at malolactic fermentation. The Merlot presented a deep hue in the glass to suggest good extraction with excellent fruit on the nose; likewise, the Cabernet Franc was clean with characteristic pepper notes. The Petit Verdot, though, was by far the star of the afternoon. Inky with concentrated plum flavors, it seems destined to shine in future releases. Nothing that we sampled suggested diluted colors or flavors, and we detected no vegetal notes to indicate lack of ripening.

Our time at Boxwood Winery concluded with samples of the upcoming 2010 releases now in tanks. The 2010 Topiary will be a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot; aromas of pepper and dried herbs dominated along with notes of raspberry and cherry to suggest an earthier blend. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon will be not be blended; I noted characteristics of black fruit and tobacco with a pleasant whiff of violet. An addition to the Boxwood lineup will be the Trellis, a fruit forward table wine that blends Merlot and Malbec. This one should be prove to be popular as we both found it to be accessible and easy to drink either alone or with a meal.

So do not accept blanket dismissals of the 2011 harvest as fact for the entire state. We’ll do our best to keep readers posted. In the meantime, plan a visit to Boxwood Winery, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

2009 Petit Verdot from Gadino

Many of you know that my favorite wine of the moment is petit verdot. Petit verdot is used all over the state as a blending grape. While many winemakers do an excellent job of using it as a blending grape, I think a stand alone petit verdot is the way to go. I’ve had several stand alone petit verdots from Virginia and I do think it will become a more prominent grape but until more wineries create a stand alone, I’ll continue to enjoy those that have seen the light.

Last spring Stephanie at Gadino Cellars gave us a barrel sample of the 2009 Petit Verdot. At that time we thought it was showing very well and anticipated its release. Last weekend we visited Gadino Cellars and Derek presented us with a preview bottle of the 2009 Petit Verdot. Oh how we love getting to taste wines ahead of their release. The 2009 Petit Verdot from Gadino Cellars will be released this weekend.

Last night for dinner we had lamb chops, roasted veggies, and red potatoes. What better wine to pair with this meal than the 2009 Petit Verdot. On the nose we noted dark plum, dark cherry, crushed dried herbs, and tobacco. In the mouth we noted similar characteristics of dark plum, dark cherry, and a creamy caramel finish. Warren detected a mocha component to this more complex wine. It paired beautifully with our meal.

Tasting this wine made me think about the 2008 reds. I wondered if I was enamored with 2008 reds or was I enamored with characteristics of 2009 reds. Such a dilemma. We decided we need to taste more 2009 reds. Either way, we completely enjoyed this 2009 Petit Verdot from Gadino Cellars. We suggest you get your bottle soon and enjoy this 2009 Petit Verdot. And you know, if we don’t like something, we don’t write about it. If you visit Gadino Cellars anytime soon, be sure to tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Yelper Helper

This place was completely terrible…as others mentioned families are relegated to a fenced in “pen.” I get that it is private property, your business, etc. but please mention your lame rules before I drive a mile down your crappy unpaved road.

The whole process felt a little like an assembly line for me, although we did come in with a big group without reservations.

On the plus side, they did squeeze in our group of 14.

Her reasoning was that if she gave me a cup, I might pour my wine in it and give it to some underage minor who would sneak around the corner and drink some.

There were 6 couples plus kids. The owner was unhappy with our kids playing soccer during the picnic in a tiny field next to the parking lot. He was also unhappy we set up a sun cover over a picnic table and several other things.

I lifted these comments from Yelp, the popular online review service that allows customers to rant and rave about any and all establishments that provide goods or services to the public. Disgruntled tasters left these particular comments on Yelp in regard to several Virginia wineries, but rest assured that virtually every Virginia winery has been negatively Yelped at least once. Some Yelpers do keep their comments focused on the wines and their impressions of them; however, others, like the ones presented above, follow a similar pattern and center on poor customer service due to _____(fill in the blank:. Large party of tasters, toddlers on board, Fido gets the boot.) And oh—the wines suck. So there! There is certainly no excuse for poor treatment at a winery, and customers have every right to speak up on the matter. However, I do think that customers owe winery owners, their harried tasting room staffs, and other customers some basic courtesies. Here are my tips to make certain that your winery visits are pleasant ones.

1. Here Comes the Bride: Most wineries consider groups of more than six to be large, and their ability to accommodate large groups can be rather limited especially if the group arrives during peak hours. It therefore makes sense that the winery would appreciate some notice before your large group arrives. The most notorious violators of this common sense rule are the bridal parties. Nothing throws a tasting room staff into a panic more than the sight of the unannounced limo dropping off a bride to be and her tipsy band of bridesmaids at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Yes, some wineries will be more than happy to help you share your special moment and may even provide you and your guests with a private tasting. However, do not expect deluxe treatment if you suddenly pop in as part of an afternoon winery crawl. Therefore, make your plans early and contact the winery well in advance of your trip. Be sure to provide as many details as possible, and have at least an estimate of your party’s size. Will you all be travelling in a limo? If so, the limo or bus may take up too much parking lot space; perhaps special parking arrangements can be made. (A limo or bus might be a great idea since no one in your party needs to worry about drinking and driving.) Therefore, call ahead! I’ll repeat that one more time. Call ahead! The same advice holds true for any large group (party of more than six) that is planning a visit to any Virginia winery. Call ahead! Trust me, this basic courtesy is greatly appreciated by the winery staff.

2. Kids in the car: Remember that wine tasting is really an adult activity, and children cannot be anywhere near the tasting bar. Most Virginia wineries do maintain a kid friendly environment; however, some may prefer to maintain an adults-only atmosphere. Therefore, call ahead to find out. Please be aware, though, that many tasting rooms do have small gift areas with breakable items that may be attractive to curious toddlers. And I cannot tell you how many times we’ve seen little ones at food tables helping themselves to snacks with their own tiny hands while mom and dad are sipping at the bar. Teens on board? Again they cannot be near the tasting bar, and even if your well-mannered teen is somewhere outside waiting for the adults to finish their tasting, I would advise informing the tasting associate that you’ve brought a minor along on the trip. ABC agents do not announce themselves when they visit wineries, and their mission is to be sure that rules are being followed. If they suspect that minors have access to alcohol at the winery, the consequences could be severe for the owner. Keep an eye on the kids, and the tasting staff will be glad that you did!

3. Fido the Wino: Dogs—I love dogs. However, I am not certain that I like dogs at a winery. At one recent winery visit, Paul and I attempted to share wine and conversation at an outdoor table when we were treated to a nearby barking duet between Fido and Fluffy as they sang sweet love songs to each other. Our conversation ended when we could not hear a word we were saying to each other. However, I do understand why some tasters would want to bring their dogs to wineries, because I am sure that even Fluffy would appreciate the mountain views that many Virginia wineries offer. However, rather than risk being told to keep Rover in the car, call ahead to find out if he can come along for the trip. Also, while Rover may be friendly to you, he is still an animal and other customers may not want to find out just how friendly he can be. And there is a liability issue to consider. Fido’s bad day may cost someone a trip to the doctor, but who’s responsible? Does Barney sometimes take a nip? Open wine bottles and bar snacks may not look or taste too appealing to others once he has been allowed a sniff, sip or nibble. (Yes, we’ve seen this happen.) I attended a recent tasting where the owner, despite toothpicks in clear view, grabbed cheese squares with his hand and fed them to his dog as it then voraciously lapped at the tasty morsels. Owner then took his slobber-covered hand and used it to take more cheese squares from the same bowl. (I’m not kidding.) As in tip #2, if indeed you can bring your dog, be mindful of the dog’s (and your own) behavior.

4. Time Is On My Side: Not really. Tasting rooms get really crowded in the afternoon, and you will have to wait for service. Most Virginia wineries and their tasting rooms are small, because most Virginia wineries are small agricultural businesses. In fact, the guy behind the counter who will be pouring your wine may also be the winemaker. The cashier? Probably his wife. So why not hire more help, you ask with your ears steaming? Because wine making is an expensive operation, and the staff that you see behind the counter is probably all that the owner can afford to maintain and still stay in business. In fact, some tasting room associates work for wine in lieu of pay. So know your patience level before making that late afternoon trip to the winery. For example, if you avoid the supermarket at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon because you hate standing in long lines, then do not make a visit to a tasting room at that time either. We hit the trails early in the day for that very reason. And that way, you really can have that intimate chat with the winemaker and ask as many questions as you’d like—just like we do!

5. Stay Focused: Virginia winemakers have a focus—to pour their passions for winemaking into the vineyard and then into a bottle for you to enjoy. Party halls? Kiddie Korners? Dog parks? Probably not part of the vision for most winemakers. Therefore, remember why it is that you want to visit Virginia wineries in the first place—to taste passion in a bottle. Winemaking starts in the vineyard and getting the grapes into the bottle is a difficult, expensive, and time-consuming task. Therefore, do the winemaker a favor and maintain your own focus—on the wine. If your priority is to really just to have a party or to give Rover some exercise, then find wineries that offer those perks. How can you be sure that any particular winery will meet satisfy your own agenda? Plan ahead and call ahead!

6. Respect: This last tip is probably the most important. We’re rather spoiled in this area. Virginia offers outstanding wines while providing tasters with nature’s own spectacular views. Most area wineries will allow you to stay and picnic while appreciating a bottle of favorite wine with your meal. Napa? Bordeaux? The expectation at most wineries in other regions is that you will taste, purchase and leave. In fact, most regulars on the Virginia wine trails may have noticed that more wineries are adopting a “no picnic” rule these days. Why? Stories of facilities being trashed by inconsiderate visitors, guests bringing in outside alcoholic beverages (this is illegal by the way), and other tales of rudeness have become more frequent in our chats with winery staff. Remember, the tasting room that you are visiting is part of the owner’s personal property and in some cases is a room in the house. The vineyard? His/her backyard. So think twice before loading up the van with all of the kids’ favorite toys, your own lawn furniture, and that secret six-pack in case you opt for a brew instead of a chardonnay after the tasting.

So still want to rant on Yelp? Reflect on these tips before you pound the keyboard, and ask yourself how you might react from the other side of the tasting bar. Some planning and preparation as well as a large dose of common courtesy will go a long way to ensure that you, the winery staff, and fellow customers can all have an enjoyable and memorable experience.

Snow and Wine at Breaux

Last Sunday Warren and I headed to Loudoun County for a day of horseback riding and wine tasting. We began the day at Providence Farm for a trail ride. There was still snow on the ground and fall colors in the trees. Besides the beautiful views, we saw deer, all kinds of birds, and other wild life. After our memorable trail ride, we headed to Breaux Vineyards for some wine tasting. We were also there to pick up my latest Cellar Club selections.

The snow on the ground with the fall colors on the trees made for some beautiful pictures at Breaux!

One of our favorite tasting associates Silvia conducted our tasting. We always enjoy chatting about wine with Silvia when we visit Breaux Vineyards. We’ve tasted all the wines on the regular tasting menu several times but enjoy seeing how they are evolving in the bottle. The 2010 Viognier is really evolving. We tasted it for the first time at the Wine Bloggers Conference back in July. We then tasted it again in September. This time we noticed honeysuckle really standing out. It’s a complex wine that will continue to delight our palates. The non-vintage Equation is also evolving nicely in the bottle. Each time we taste it something different arrives on our tongues. This time the plum and berry flavors really stood out. This one is a great sipper and would go well with pizza or burgers.

During our tasting we were able to chat with Jen Breaux and taste some of the Cellar Club selections. We were able to taste the 2010 Lot 10-08. This is a blend of Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc. Its light and crisp and presents citrus and stone fruit notes. It had a tart finish with a hint of merinality. I decided this one would make a great sipper for the beginning of a dinner party. I brought home two bottles for that exact reason. The 2008 Six Degrees is a blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera. Warren noted violet, plum, blackberry, dried fruit, and tobacco. He thinks it would pair well with prime rib. Yum!

After our tasting we enjoyed some of the 2010 Lot 10-08 with cheese and baguette slices. Jen treated us to a glass of the 2001 Nebbiolo! Thanks Jen! The 2001 Nebbiolo is a stand out wine. It is developing beautifully in the bottle. Its light and smooth and is effortless to enjoy. If you ever get the chance to try this one, you simply must. We had a great afternoon at Breaux enjoying the wines and running into our friends Jeff and Stacey! If you visit Breaux Vineyards anytime soon, meet some friends, enjoy the wine, join the club, and be sure to tell them Virginia WIne Time sent you!

Spooky Tastings at Paradise Springs

So our planned adventures for Saturday got canned due to the historic Halloween snow event. Halloween and snow—who knew such a thing would ever happen in this part of the country! Anyway, we decided to make the most of our afternoon by donning our Halloween costumes for a haunted experience at nearby Paradise Springs.

Nothing new had been released since our last tasting this past spring, but our tasting associate, Linda, bewitched us into taking advantage of the two for one Halloween tasting special. Two tasters received wine tasting for the price of one if at least one was dressed in a costume. Of course, I was the dressed up one, and I looked quite dashing in my Renaissance garb. Linda served up the potions, and we sipped and swirled away.

Our preferences remained the same. The 2010 Chardonnay, Nana’s Rose and the 2009 Meritage were our standouts on the list. After our tasting, we decided to enjoy block of Manchego cheese and turkey pepperoni with a bottle of the Rose; before we were done, we noticed that the tasting room was getting more crowded. We also observed heavy snowflakes beginning to fall!

Before we left, we took advantage of the 10% discount offered to costumed costumers and bought a couple of bottles of our favorites. When we walked outside, we were amazed at the stark contrast presented before us—trees in full autumn finery decorated with snow. I’m sure that this is one of those once in a lifetime experiences, and Paul made certain to record the event with his camera. It’s hard to see the snowflakes in the picture but they were really coming down.

No doubt cooler weather is on its way, so make sure to visit Paradise Springs for a tasting. Enjoy a glass of wine by the outdoor fireplace promises to take the chill off, but please mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you!