Swirl at Twisted Vines

We always like to applaud local establishments that promote local wines, and Twisted Vines is just such a place. Twisted Vines is a wine bar in Arlington owned by Josh and Sybil Robinson, and they maintain a wine list that always includes at least eight Virginia wines; as an added “twist”, they also host a monthly program called Swirl. Swirl events pair local wine with local art, and we were able to attend this month’s showcase that featured wines by Annefield Vineyards and photography by artist Daniel Taylor. Annefield Vineyards owners Stephen Ballard and Michael Leary were on hand to pour their wines which included the 2010 Viognier, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2008 Annefield Red.

We’ve praised the wines from Annefield Vineyards in the past, and we were excited to sample these wines again at Swirl. The fruity Viognier, earthier Cabernet Sauvignon, and complex Annefield Red continue to show well and showcase the winemaking talents of winemaker Michael Shaps. We were also able to chat with Stephen and Michael about the 2011 season and their expectations for releases from that harvest. Their part of the state, which is in the south, was spared the constant rainfall and dismal weather that plagued vineyards in the eastern part of the state. Consequently, they were fairly optimistic about the wines that will be produced. Of course, we look forward to sampling them!

As we swirled away, we also took in the photography of Daniel Taylor. His photographs captured the action at bullfights that he attended while visiting the Yucatan Peninsula. Checkout his website to find out more.

After our tasting, we also chatted with Twisted Vines owner Josh Robinson. Josh is committed to a “local” philosophy that includes not only wine and art but also food. Meats and cheeses on his menu were also locally produced. Of course, we were interested in hearing how Virginia wines are received at the wine bar, and his assessment was pretty much what we expected. According to Josh, though it sometimes takes some encouragement (and educating) to convince customers to try Virginia wines, once they do, they are convinced that the state does indeed produce quality wines. He has also hosted wine dinners that feature Virginia wines; on one such occasion, Linden wines were poured with heralded winemaker Jim Law on hand to present his wines.

We completed our afternoon at Swirl by enjoying a glass of the 2008 Annefield Red with charcuterie that included mild salami and a plate of white cheddar cheese. The buzz continued to swell as customers came in to taste wine and view art. For Annefield Vineyards, an opportunity to reach new tasters was achieved.

Our afternoon of wine and art was both tasty and enlightening. We weren’t familiar with Twisted Vines before, but we now have them on our radar for future events. And getting to taste the Annefield wines with Mike and Stephan was a bonus! Be sure to check out Twisted Vines in Arlington and plan to visit Annefield Vineyards. Be sure to tell them both Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Women and Wine: Jen Breaux Blosser

Jen Breaux Blosser is General Manager of Sales, Marketing and Hospitality at Breaux Vineyards. She is also a very familiar face to Virginia wine lovers. Jen is a visible face in the tasting room at Breaux Vineyards, and she constantly interacts with wine lovers on Facebook and Twitter. Her energy and passion for Virginia wine is limitless. When Jen is not at the helm of a winery that has earned numerous national and international awards, she is also a mom to three boys. We’re so pleased she agreed to answer some questions for us. Click on the Women and Wine tab to read her answers. Thanks Jen!

Also check this out:

Wine critic Dave McIntyre’s article in Tuesday’s Washing Post is a must read for wine lovers. The article features chef Peter Chang and his decision to pour Virginia wines at the James Beard House in Manhattan to celebrate Monday’s start of the Year of the Dragon. Winemaker Andy Reagan will undertake the task of pairing Chang’s spicy cuisine with Virginia wines. NcIntyre then reports on a New Year’s dinner that he hosted at Peter Chang’s Charlottesville restaurant, China Grill, and invited several Virginia winemakers to attend. The purpose? To test Andy Reagan’s wine pairings with Chang’s menu. The results? Read the article to find out!

Fundraising, Fun, and Virginia Wine

Kurt Jensen and his wife, Carol, invited us to attend a fundraiser to benefit a youth program that is sponsored by their church, the Fairfax Unitarian Universalist Church. The program is the Fairfax Unitarian Universalist Summer Experience, or FUUSE, and it allows “youth to live out their values in the larger community.” Internship positions provide interns with an opportunity to expand their knowledge of social justice and to therefore heighten their connection to their local community. Young interns are placed with such organizations as the Alzheimer’s Family Day Center, Our Daily Bread, Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program, and the Herndon Senior Center. To raise funds for the program, Kurt and Carol organized a tasting of Virginia wines that featured pours from Keswick Vineyards, Chester Gap Cellars, King Family Vineyards, White Hall Vineyards, and many others.

Paul and I met a number of newbies to Virginia wines at the event, and overall, the wines were very well received. Of course, tasters brought with them their own individual palates; therefore, favorites differed. Which were our favorites? I will list the wines here and note our favorites with an asterisk.

White Wines
*Keswick Vineyards 2010, DuCard Signature Viognier 2010, Chester Gap 2009 Reserve

*King Family 2009, Rappahannock Cellars 2009, 29 Vines Reserve 2009

Vidal Blanc
Crushed Cellars 2009, Vintage Ridge 2009 Summer Night, *Catoctin Creek 2010

North Gate 2010, *Hume 2010

Red Wines
Bordeaux-style Blends
Narmada Melange 2009, *Montfair Wooloomooloo 2009, Cobbler Mountain 2009 Meritage

Cabernet Franc
*Corcoran Vineyards 2009, Miracle Valley, 2008 White Hall Vineyards, Capitol Vineyards 2009

Chambourcin blends
Gadino Cellars Imagine, Pippin Hill Farm Winemaker’s Select Red, *Delfosse 2007 Cuvee Laurent

*AmRhein Ruby, Corcoran Cello, Lost Creek Courtney’s Christmas

Contributing to a good cause while sipping good wines always make for an enjoyable evening. We had a wonderful time, and Kurt and Carol did an amazing job organizing the event. Kudos to them! If readers want to know more about the FUUSE program, send e-mails to uucf@uucf.org.

Of course, we know that we will be meeting Kurt and Carol Jensen on the wine trail soon. In the meantime, visit the wineries listed above to sample their latest pours. Mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

King Cab Served at Breaux Vineyards

Breaux Vineyards fans may already know that each year, the winery offers a series of vertical tastings that may include a vertical flight of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, nebbiolo, meritage blends, etc. This past weekend, we attended a vertical tasting that featured the king of Bordeaux grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, and vintages since 2005 were served. These included barrel samples from the 2009 and 2010 vintages. A three-course menu was served with the flight of wines.

Tasters were greeted to the event with a tank sample of the 2011 Cabernet Rose, a very dry rose that already presented a nose of fresh strawberries. This Old World rose was an instant hit for me; it also called to attention the winemaking style of new winemaker David Castano. I expect that Castano’s wines will be more European with a focus on full fruit expression and nuanced earthy elements that make for elegant and food-friendly wines. Keep in mind that the difficult 2011 vintage will be Castano’s first as winemaker at Breaux, so this rose provided early signs of success.

So on to the Cabernets now and food course #1: jumbo prawn over thyme and Parmesan grits topped with wilted frisse and tomato oil. These were paired with the 2005 and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Of the two, I preferred the muscular, earthy 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon with its dark fruit characteristics and tobacco nuances. (However, I must admit that I enjoyed the prawn even more with the rose.) The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was lighter bodied compared to its younger sibling; Paul seemed to appreciate this one more than the 2006 and observed violet notes with cherry flavors and a smooth finish.

Course #2: grilled free-range chicken over cappellini spun with truffle cream and crimin mushrooms tossed with goddess coulis. My favorite dish of the evening! And it was paired with my favorite wine of the evening—the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. It was presented next to the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the contrasts were obvious. The 2007 growing season was stellar in Virginia thus producing outstanding red wines. The Breaux Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon lived up to the lofty expectations. Complex yet elegant, it delivered aromas and flavors of dark cherry, plum, cassis, and black pepper. I caught a whiff of pencil shavings; Paul described it as cedar. On the other hand, the 2008 presented a fruitier, riper profile with oaky elements that suggested it needed a bit more time to integrate more fully. The finish on this one seemed a bit shorter than the 2007. The 2008 growing season was a more classic one for Virginia that included a visit from hurricanes hence more rainfall.

And now course #3: grassfed beef braised with mushrooms over garlic croustade and wilted watercress. Barrel samples of the 2009 and 2010 vintages were partnered with this dish. Again, the contrasts were notable. The 2009 sample finished last on my list of wine preferences for the evening. “Green” was the word that I jotted down as I observed more vegetal aromas. Still young to be sure, I will be interested to taste this one down the road. The 2010, however, had potential written all over it. I would consider this one to be on par with the 2007 vintage. Though extremely young, dark fruit components were on full display as was a noted vanilla finish to suggest oak aging. This youthful kid was more than a match for the slow-cooked beef, earthy mushrooms, and stick-to-your ribs sauce.

As a New Orleans native, I appreciate lagniappe (or “something extra”), and the 2006 Late Harvest Breaux Soleil was our bonus pour of the evening. This blend of late harvest Vidal, Viognier, Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc exhibited a heady floral nose along with aromas of apricots, citrus and honey. It was certainly a lovely bonus and a nice way to finish the evening.

As we sipped and dined, winemaker David Castano introduced himself and explained that he hails from a family of winemakers in Spain. He expertly presented the wines and entertained questions from the crowd of tasters. In the process, we learned that all Cabernets at Breaux are blends from both American and French oak barrels, and Castano intends to continue this practice so as to maximize the benefits to the aging process offered by both types of barrels. As a side note, we also learned that Breaux neighbors, Grandale Farms Restaurant, will begin their own vineyard to be called Silhouette Vineyards. Details about this development were indeed scarce; needless to say, check in with Virginia Wine Time to keep abreast of the developing story.

We always enjoy wine and chatter with our fellow bloggers, and joining us for the evening were Allan Liska and Erika Johannsen from Cellarblog. I think that we all concurred on a decision that the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was the evening’s winner. The next vertical tasting will take place in March and feature Merlot, and we will certainly check our calendars for that event. In the meantime, plan a visit to Breaux Vineyards or perhaps even reserve a seat at the next vertical tasting in March. Please mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Virginia Wines 101: Lessons From Richard Leahy

Wine expert Richard Leahy is indeed the go-to guy for anyone who wants to know anything about Virginia wine.  The Charlottesville resident is passionate about wine and in particular, Virginia wine.  His involvement in the industry runs the gamut from wine consultant to wine judge to wine historian, and to wine reporter.  In fact, Richard even has his own backyard vineyard!  Richard also coordinates with Blue Ridge Wine Tours to offer expert tours of wineries on the Monticello Trail.

We asked Richard to provide for us and our readers a brief comparison of Virginia’s AVAs and wine regions, a review of the past several vintages from Virginia, and a few details about his upcoming book about the past, present, and future of the Virginia wine industry.

(Before you read on, a brief definition of AVA, the acronym for American Viticultural Area from Karen McNeil’s The Wine Bible: a ‘delimited grape-growing region distinguished by geographical features, the boundaries of which have been recognized.’)

1. There are six AVAs and 9 wine regions in Virginia. How do the soils and climates compare and contrast in some of these regions?

In the Eastern Shore and Coastal plain there are sandy loam soils, much like Bordeaux without the gravel morain.  West of the fall line (basically Rt. 1/I-95) you’re in the lower piedmont, mainly distinguished from the upper Piedmont from the Southwestern Mountain/Monticello to the Blue Ridge by topography. If you look at a Virginia soils map, it’s a very diverse complex mix in the Piedmont. Soils there are on the acid side of the scale with lots of clay in the central Piedmont but less so in the northern Piedmont.  The Shenandoah Valley is markedly different with limestone-based soils dominating. Drainage is the main quality aspect for soils and wine in Virginia, so the role of topography is important or being located where there are well-drained soils such as Eastern Shore, and the Valley. The Shenandoah Valley is compelling in both limestone-based soils and cooler, drier climate and you can tell wines from that region have a cooler climate character than just over the mountain in Monticello, for example.

The Monticello AVA has the advantage of warmer temperatures and lots of elevation for the vineyards as well as for aeration and water drainage, so that area can produce big reds. However, the lower vigor and better acid retention in the reds from the Northern Piedmont (as well as the noticeably higher acid and fresher character in the whites from there) shows that this region should be recognized with an AVA. You may know that a Middleburg AVA is now pending.

The other AVAs frankly don’t have enough of a track record in the market or with critics to be able to stand out in a blind tasting in a coherent way, as I believe Monticello and Shenandoah. Valley can. As you know politics plays as much of a role in AVAs as anything else. 

2.  Do the different climates/soils, elevations make for varying flavor profiles?  For example, would a viognier or cabernet franc in one Virginia wine region have features that are different from the same varieties grown in another region in the state?

I have noticed that wines from the Eastern Shore are very fresh and clean but light bodied, where wines from the complex soils of the Piedmont have more depth, and the Shenandoah Valley gives both whites and reds a fine minerality. I think my answer above suffices for more.

3. Since Hurricane Isabel struck this area in 2003, Virginia has produced some outstanding vintages due to optimal weather conditions.  If you had to rate some of the past vintages, since 2003, which ones would be at the top of your list?

2005 (B+ but not long-lasting; drink up for most); 2007 was ripe and juicy but low acid, drinking hedonistically well now. Reds with tannic grapes will last up to a decade. 2008; very mixed bag (viogniers pretty much wiped out), some reds are world-class. Meritage blends promising, also norton. 2009: good for high-acid whites, very spotty for reds esp. merlot and cab franc, but this varies widely, and surprisingly cabernet sauvignon the best of the reds. 2010: Very good all around; ripe but balanced whites, and forward, very fruity reds. Tannins and acids a bit low like ’07; a vintage you can glug and enjoy now across the board, but look carefully for tannic based wines for what to lay down. I should say people shouldn’t write off 2011; early-ripening varieties like chardonnay, pinot grigio, riesling, gewurztraminer and pinot noir (!) have been excellent since they came in before the long September rains.

4. Isabel’s younger sister, Irene, paid us all a visit last year just in time for harvest. How have you assessed the 2011 vintage?

It seems to us that the eastern most regions of the state were hit hard by heavy rain and then came the botrytis and sour rot, but the western regions of the state were a bit more fortunate. See above. It was highly variable by location and by ripening cycle of the variety. People should buy carefully but taste widely. Consensus is that due to the heat spike in July/August it will be better (for early-ripening varieties and then sheltered regions) than 2003 and could have good value for smart shoppers.
5. We know that you have a book coming out about Virginia wine.  Can you give us some details about the book?  When will it be released?

The title is Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, because it goes back in time to 17th century Jamestown, and up to the present. Jefferson is often portrayed as a protean figure, bringing European vines, and culture, to the frontier, but in fact he was on a continuum. I reveal some chapters of previously unknown 18th century Virginia wine history, but most of the book is both a travelogue through the Commonwealth visiting individual wineries, and a focus on the various issues of the “evolution of quality wine in Virginia” (the book’s subtitle). These chapters range from “The blessings and challenges of nature” (a more in-depth discussion of soil and climate issues), to the changing perception of Virginia wine by the American wine media (now including bloggers), “Richmond roots for the home team” about the importance of the support of state government and our current administration in particular; and “what the British think of Virginia wine and why it matters.” I also have a profile of two very different Virginia wineries, both new in 2011, and how they illustrate the versatility of Virginia wine today, and what the Virginia wine industry means to whom. The book will be available for purchase in May of this year, and your readers can find details of when I’ll be doing scheduled book signings at Virginia wineries and bookstores by early February by visiting BeyondJeffersonsvines.com.

Two Meals, Two Wines

As is often the case, Warren and I don’t exactly agree on what’s for dinner. Friday night Warren made crab cakes for himself and tilapia that was breaded and spiced with parmesan cheese for me. I don’t happen to like shell fish so having the tilapia solved that problem. We also had bow tie pasta tossed with parmesan cheese and herbs. But what wines to pair with our meals?

Warren likes big buttery chardonnays but I prefer lighter crispier white wines. He selected the 2009 Reserve Chardonnay from Gray Ghost to accompany his meal. He noted ripe pear, subtle grilled pineapple, and a toasty lingering finish.

I opted for the 2009 Viognier from Rappahannock Cellars. It had crisp tropical notes, honeysuckle, and a delightful fruity ending. Warren picked up some spicy elements.

Both wines complimented both our meals. Of course I’m partial to the crisp whites and voted the 2009 Viognier as the winner. Warren voted for the 2009 Reserve Chardonnay. If you visit Gray Ghost or Rappahannock Cellars anytime soon, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Wine and Landscapes at Delaplane Cellars

Paul and I have always been impressed with the wines produced by Jim Dolphin at Delaplane Cellars, and since our last visit to the winery, Delaplane Cellars has earned numerous accolades of wine critics. Feature articles in newspapers and magazines added to the demand for wines from the relatively new winery in Virginia. And if the wines were not enough to visit Delaplane Cellars, the incredible mountain views offer further incentive.

Success has been wonderful to Delaplane Cellars; in fact, it has been too good. On this particular visit, most of their wines were sold out! This includes the heralded Honah Lee and Maggie’s Viogniers as well as the acclaimed Syrah. Four wines were available for tasting, and two were from Delaplane Cellars—the full-bodied 2010 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay and the complex red 2009 William’s Gap. To fill in the gaps, two offerings from Vintage Ridge were also available tasting, a 2008 Merlot and a 2009 Cabernet Franc. I favored both Delaplane wine, especially the Chardonnay; Paul enjoyed the Merlot as well as the Chardonnay.

As we tasted, our tasting associates updated us on the upcoming releases. Look forward to red wine releases in late winter, and these will include a Syrah, the blended Cinq, and a Tannat. An off-dry Petit Manseng will also be released at roughly the same time. Viogniers? Bottlings from the Honah Lee and Maggie’s Vineyards should be available in the late spring.

From the tasting bar, the winter landscape beckoned, and we shifted our attention to wine, food and gazing. We opted to enjoy a lunch of soft, creamy white cheese with warm bread and a bottle of the 2010 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay. We appreciated its flavors of apples, pears and honey; its full-bodied mouth feel complemented the creamy texture of the cheese. As we sipped and nibbled, we appreciated the often under-appreciated winter landscape that allowed us to view blue-tinted mountains on a very sunny afternoon.

We will be certain to visit Delaplane Cellars in the spring and summer to sample upcoming releases. In the meantime, enjoy the quiet of wintertime with a trip to Delaplane Cellars. Be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.