I Tasted My Way Through the Wines of America

Yes indeed I did! On March 12, I attended the Taste the Wines of America event sponsored by the National Association of American Wineries and the Winegrape Growers of America. The event was held in the evening at the Longworth Building near the Capitol building.

A warm winter’s evening allowed for the event to occur not only in the stately Congressional suite in the Longworth Building but also on the grand balcony which offers a spectacular view of the Capitol building’s dome. Seen between the bare branches of budding trees on a crystal clear night, the view could only be described as breathtaking. I met up with Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like, and with glasses in our hands, we literally tasted our way across America. Wine selection represented the west coast, Great Lakes, Midwest, New York, the Northeast, the Rocky Mountains, and the Southeast. Virginia was represented in the Southeast tasting, and wineries included the some of the state’s best—Barboursville Vineyards, Boxwood Estate, and Breaux Vineyards.

So what were my impressions? Virginia showed very well, of course. I was especially fond of the 2007 Topiary and enjoyed the 2010 Topiary Rose from Boxwood Winery. Rachel Martin and Kat were on hand to present the wines of the Southeast, and they were careful to give equal treatment to wines from Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The Petite Noir from Arrington Vineyards was interesting, and I will assume that Petite Noir is a hybrid grape. I certainly would need more experience with this varietal to offer further comment about it; however, I could see how its smoky nose and tart cranberry flavors might be favored by barbeque lovers of the Volunteer State.

My standout impressions of the evening were Oregon and Colorado. The Oregon table featured Pinot Noir, of course, and it was here that Frank and I strolled out onto the balcony to behold the majestic view as the sun began to set. Frank skillfully guided me through a tasting of Oregon Pinots, a particular favorite of his. We both concluded that the best of the selections that featured King Estate, Rex Hill, Sokol Blosser and Willamette Valley Vineyards was the Winderlea Vineyards 2009 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir. In Frank’s opinion it was “well integrated” with dark berry and spice characteristics. I simply agreed and asked for another splash from the server.

I was impressed, though, with the offerings fro Colorado; in particular, I enjoyed the white wines from Guy Grew Vineyards. This winery is located far away from Denver, but a trip to the Centennial State might have to include a visit to Guy Grew Vineyards. The 2009 Viognier was reminiscent of a fruity, peachy Virginia wine made from the same grape; I also thought that the dry Riesling was quite nice.

Other attendees included sommelier Andrew Stover of Vino50 Selections. If any person defines the word, “enthusiastic”, it is Andrew Stover. Andrew is usually seen wherever wines from off the beaten wine trails are being poured. I ran into Andrew at the Midwest table as he sipped his way through wines from Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas. (I thought that the McPherson 2010 Reserve Rousanne had the best potential of the lot.) Be sure to checkout Stover’s Grape American Road Trip at www.vino50.com, to find out more about his promotion of American wines made by boutique-style producers.

There is no doubt that America’s other 46 are producing some quality wines. An event like this is an excellent way to taste these wines since they cannot be tasted at wine shops. I will say, though, that Virginia made me proud. Tired of the same old stuff from Napa? Plan a visit to a Virginia winery and try something local. Be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Richard Leahy Releases Beyond Jefferson’s Vines

Richard Leahy masterfully captures the past, present and future of a wine region that has grown dramatically in recent years. Pour yourself a glass of a favorite Virginia wine and follow Leahy as he tastes his way through Virginia wine country. Wine aficionados at all levels who want to know more about this emerging wine region will find this book to be indispensable.

This was the jacket endorsement that I wrote for Richard Leahy’s newly released book on the Virginia wine industry called Beyond Jefferson’s Vines. Paul and I have logged countless months, days, hours and minutes traveling the state to sample the best (and not so best) wines of Virginia. Therefore, it is with some authority that I can tell you that reading Beyond Jefferson’s Vines is the next best thing to actually traveling the state for yourself. Included in this must-read work is an introduction by fellow critic, Dave McIntyre who advises us all to “to over Thomas Jefferson.” And indeed it may be time to do just that. Leahy gives testimony to an industry that has grown (most importantly) in quality and in quantity within the past decade. The Virginia wine industry has arrived both nationally and even internationally, and while Jefferson helped to give birth to a nation, his attempts at winemaking were absolute failures. It is obvious, then, that the Virginia winemaking has reached heights that Jefferson could only imagine. Time to get over Thomas Jefferson? Absolutely!

On hand to celebrate Leahy’s book releases included industry professionals such as Christopher Parker, a British native and Virginia resident who exports Virginia wines to Great Britain. Bloggers were in attendance and included the duo known as Swirl, Sip, Snark, Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like, and Dezel Quillen of My Vine Spot. John Hagarty, local wine reporter and associate with Rappahanock Cellars was also on hand. And where was the event held? At a Virginia winery, of course. Paradise Springs hosted the event, and we were treated to lunch and wonderful pours from Paradise Springs Winery. Publisher Carlo DeVito paid homage to Leahy’s hard work in producing the book under demanding deadlines; however, Richard seemed unfazed by the stress and demands. I’ve always been impressed by Richard’s easy-going cheerfulness, and as I’ve gotten to know Richard and then reading Beyond, I now know why. Richard has a passion for what he does (and does very well)—the tireless promotion of the local wine industry.

As the release party came to a close, Richard autographed copies of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines for each attendee. However, we had one more treat in store, and that was a barrel tasting conducted by Paradise Springs winemaker, Rob Cox with Richard Leahy as part of the group. I will not hash out the particulars of the barrel tasting, but I will say that the still-fermenting Chardonnay was excellent as was the fruity Petit Manseng that promises to be drier than the current 2010 bottling. The Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat were all from the 2011 harvest, and these all indicated that the 2011 harvest was not a complete disaster. These evolving red wines will be fruitier and lighter bodied (even the Tannat) than the vaunted 2010 counterparts; however, they will be quality wines probably to enjoy while young.

Look for Richard Leahy’s Beyond Jefferson’s Vines wherever books are sold; in fact, copies will be available in some tasting rooms. Of course, pay a visit to Paradise Springs Winery, too. Be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Boxwood Tasting Room

Our Virginia Wine and Dine month experiences have been mostly at home enjoying Virginia wines with our meals. However, last weekend we made it to the Boxwood Tasting Room in Chevy Chase, Maryland to try their wines and have some lunch.

We headed to the bar and purchased two cards for the enomatic wine machines. We were able to taste all of the Boxwood wines and several others they have listed on their menu. Of the Boxwood wines I tasted, I really enjoyed the 2009 Topiary. It has a wonderful deep garnet color with berry notes and a smooth finish. While I normally really enjoy 2008 reds, this one made me think of a 2008 red.

After our tasting I ordered a ham and brie panini and Warren ordered a turkey and gouda panini. We decided on the 2010 Topiary Rose to enjoy with our sandwiches. And the weather was so nice, we enjoyed them outside at the patio tables. I had my new iPad with me so I was able to snap a few photos, tweet them and share them with you here. Have you been to a Boxwood Tasting Room recently? If not, plan a trip to one soon and tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Out and About in the Rappahannock Area

Two weeks ago we attended a winemaker’s dinner at Marriott Ranch in Hume, Virginia, and the dinner featured wines from Gray Ghost Vineyards. Paul posted the pictures and menu from that lovely event; however, we also used that weekend to visit a couple of wineries in the area. They included Rappahannock Cellars and Sharp Rock Vineyards.

Rappahannock Cellars: Always a treat to sample the wines here. Of the white wines, our favorite was the 2011 Viognier that was fermented in stainless steel and then aged in oak for six months. Paul noted that the alcohol level on this vintage was lower than the 2010 vintage, and perhaps this explains the more accessible even playful nature of this particular Viognier. I noted bright citrus notes and softer aromas of orange and peach. This is certainly a wine to enjoy on its own but could be enjoyed with light fare, shellfish or simple poultry dishes. It should also prove to be quite popular for the spring and summer. Of the reds, I enjoyed the 2010 Noblesse Rouge, a lighter-bodied Bordeaux style wine. Nice cherry aromas with cedar and pepper notes were noted with a hint of vanilla to finish. Paul checked off the bolder 2010 Cabernet Franc as a favorite. We have not tasted many 2010 red wines, but we anticipate releases to rival the heralded 2007 season. This Cabernet Franc may provide a clue as to what to expect. “Jammy” was my primary descriptor, and full raspberry and blackberry fruit characteristics were noted. Spicy elements prevailed on the nose and palate. Definitely a buy now but drink later wine! Oh, and sparkling lovers should look for the release of a sparkling rose this Easter.

Sharp Rock Vineyards: It had been a long time since our last visit to Sharp Rock Vineyards, and winemaker Jimm East greeted us in the tasting room. Two very adorable dogs, of which one was a rescue animal, also welcomed us. The pleasant and unusually warm weather found us enjoying the crisp 2011 Chardonnay. This one is not oaked, and it presented nice pear and apple flavors with a pleasant acidity. We also concurred on our favorite red wine, the 2010 Synergy. A blend of Petit Verdot and Merlot, we observed plum and dark cherry flavors with elements of sweet tobacco and pepper. The tannins were surprisingly smooth for a 2010 vintage; we will be comparing notes on the 2010 red wines now that they are being released. While the Synergy could be enjoyed now, I would not be afraid to keep it on the wine rack for a couple of years. We enjoyed a glass of the Chardonnay and appreciated the view of nearby Old Rag Mountain and the hypnotic gush of the Hughes River. Jimm East joined us for a bit of conversation, and we learned that the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc will soon released. He is also considering a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to create a crisp summer sipper. Jimm also shared with us that while the 2011 season was certainly a challenge for him, it was not at all a disaster. He does anticipate that quality wines will indeed be made from the 2011 vintage.

Vacationers may want to consider a stay at Sharp Rock’s bed and breakfast. Two cottages that are part of the Sharp Rock property are available to rent for a relaxing weekend getaway. Bring your hiking boots for a scenic walk and then plan to unwind with a favorite book and a glass of Sharp Rock wine; enjoy besides the babbling Hughes River, and you may just doze off for an afternoon nap.

Now that spring (or early summer) has sprung, get out to these two wineries to sample their latest releases. Be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Two Viogniers

Continuing to celebrate Virginia Wine and Dine month, on Friday we enjoyed two Virginia white wines.

We began the evening with the 2010 Viognier from Chrysalis Vineyards. We enjoyed it with a creamy goat cheese and soft baguette. We noted pear, mango, and floral notes on the nose. On the tongue we noticed tropical fruit…mango, pineapple, and pear flavors with a hint of oak at the end. It paired nicely with our cheese and baguette.

For dinner we had pan seared, lightly breaded fluke flounder with capers and a side of pasta. Warren selected the 2010 Viognier from King Family for the meal and to do a little side by side comparison. We noted honeysuckle, citrus, and shale on the nose. In the mouth we noted subtle peach, stone fruit, and a soft vanilla finish. Warren preferred it a bit warmer while I enjoyed it quite chilled.

Enjoying these two different viogniers side by side gave us a good look at different viogniers from different parts of the state. Warren preferred the 2010 Viognier from King Family while I enjoyed the 2010 Viognier from Chrysalis Vineyards. Have you had a Virginia viognier lately? If you try one of these, or visit the wineries, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Winemaker’s Dinner

On Saturday evening we joined many of our wine trail friends for the annual Gray Ghost Winemaker’s Dinner at The Marriott Ranch. We enjoyed a delicious five course meal with Gray Ghost wines paired with each course. Al and Cheryl Kellert introduced each wine and talked about each vintage. The pairings were perfect of course. My favorite course and pairing was the trout schnitzel with the 2011 Gewürztraminer. I liked the trout schnitzel so much that I asked the chef after the dinner how he made it. I have a good idea of how to replicate the dish later. Everyone had a great time enjoying the food, the wine, and the company. I took a few pictures but not enough to completely document the meal. I was too busy enjoying the evening!

The Wine Trail Table

The Menu

Third Course